Spicy gochujang turkey burgers with kimchi

spicy-turkey-burgerI love good turkey burgers. I hate dry, tasteless turkey burgers. 

I love high protein meals. I hate ones that are boring. 

I love low calorie meals that actually taste amazing. I hate the ones that disappoint me. 

I have needs, okay? I’ll bet you do too. I had a package of crazy lean ground turkey -97%. That means it is high in protein, low in calories per ounce, but prone to being pretty damn tasteless and dry. 

I decided I needed a turkey burger in my life, and drew upon another low calorie incredient to make them moist. Moist is a really gross word. But it’s appropriate here. Sorry. Anyway, as it turns out, if you shred zucchini and put it in your meats, they won’t dry out. But you also won’t taste the veggies. 

Turkey burgers also need some amped up flavor. So I added Korean gochujang paste for a little heat and depth: it’s the new Sriracha, for you hipster foodies out there. Grab it at the Asian store, or just swap in sriracha. 

I also wanted to include a little Worchestershire sauce for more umami. I think umami means “funky goodness”. Or that hard to describe “meaty” taste that turkey burgers often lack. Some people use anchovy paste or even Marmite, but this is what I had lying around. 

Going with my Asian theme, I included soy sauce, garlic, and some onion in my burger mix. I could have added some sesame oil, but I was attempting to create a truly lean burger. I bound it all together with an egg white instead. Yeah, I’m a fun hater. If you want to increase the calories a bit, definitely sprinkle in a bit of sesame oil because you’ll love life more. 

Top these off with a little kimchi or gild the lily with whatever you like. These are spicy, meaty, high in protein and low in calories. Serve on a bed of greens or on a half bun for a light lunch or dinner. 

Nutrition:
162 calories|4g fat|3g carb|28g protein|1g fiber

Spicy gochujang turkey burgers with kimchi
Serves 5
A high protein, low calorie turkey burger that actually isn't dry and tasteless, thanks to a few key ingredients.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
22 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
22 min
Ingredients
  1. 20 ounces of 97% lean ground turkey
  2. 1 Tbsp gochujang paste
  3. 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  4. 90 grams grated zucchini (roughly half a zucchini)
  5. 80 grams raw onion (roughly half an onion), diced
  6. 1 egg white or 3-4 Tbsp liquid egg whites
  7. Optional: kimchi to top the burger after it cooks. Bun and/or greens for serving.
Instructions
  1. Grate and dice your veggies. Put into a bowl with everything else except toppers. Smoosh it up. Form into 5 patties.
  2. Heat a nonstick grill pan or skillet over medium high heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and cook 5-6 minutes per side in a covered pan.
  3. Remove from heat. Top with kimchi. Serve.
Amy Dix http://amydix.com/

Lightened up Greek Avgolemono Chicken Soup

Photo credit: chlotsrun.com

Photo credit: chlotsrun.com

If you haven’t had Avgolemono yet, it’s now time. Because it’s a bright, citrusy Greek classic and because this version is easy, low in calories, and still a perfect comfort food for all year round. 

The classic version incorporates lemons of course, along with chicken stock thickened with eggs and orzo. I made just a few small swaps: most notably, using cauliflower rice instead of orzo. 

avgolemono-soup

Someday I’ll be able to photograph food better. It was evening and this doesn’t look nearly as yummy as it is!

There’s nothing wrong with a little pasta in your soup. But on days when I want to eat a lighter meal, using low carb veggies like cauliflower or zucchini noodles helps me shave off significant calories. And the results still taste amazing. 

Also note that this version has a big chicken to “everything else” kind of ratio. That makes it incredibly high in protein for the amount of calories it contains. And perfect for staying full (with room left for dessert later). 

I used egg white in this recipe just to see if I’d miss the yolk. Egg yolks contain plenty of nutrients and I’d recommend including it if you’d like. I, however, wanted to see if I could create a very lean recipe that would leave one with plenty of room left in their day for a bigger meal.

I also wanted more of a thick stew – so I used not so much stock. If you like your soup, well, soupier, add another cup.

As it turns out, with all my tweaks, this soup is still packed with flavor. Give it a try. 

I’ve included the recipe for just one serving: gather your leftover chicken and get cooking. Nutrition information follows. 

Lightened Up Avgolemono Chicken Soup
Serves 1
A high protein, low calorie soup that's tastes just as bright and flavorful as the original.
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Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. 5.5 ounces of cooked chicken
  2. 1/2 stalk celery
  3. 1 slice of onion, diced
  4. 1 cup low-sodium light chicken stock (I used Aldi's Fit and Active. Use whatever you like.)
  5. 1 egg white
  6. Zest of 1 small lemon
  7. Juice of 1/2 lemon
  8. 1 teaspoon of dried herbs - oregano is perfect, but thyme or basil would work well too
  9. salt and pepper to taste
Prep
  1. Chop your leftover chicken into small pieces if needed and set aside. Chop your veggies, zest the lemon, and then set the lemon aside for now. Put the egg white in a small bowl and have it ready to go.
  2. In a small pot sprayed with nonstick cooking spray over medium heat, soften up the onion and celery for 4-5 minutes. Add the herb and cook for another minute or so.
  3. Add chicken stock and allow to come to a simmer. Take a ladle and remove a small amount of the stock. Whisk that slowly into the egg white. This "tempers" the egg white so that it doesn't scramble.
  4. Now add the zest and squeeze the half lemon into the egg white mixture, and return that all to the main pot. Whisk vigorously to incorporate, then add the chicken.
  5. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. Then enjoy!
Amy Dix http://amydix.com/
 Nutrition:
263 calories|6g fat|5g carbs|44g protein|2g fiber

Meal Planning Monday – January 8, 2017

meal-plan-monday-1

It’s a new year, and a new you? Nah. Same old me and you. Except with fewer holiday treats most likely. But it feels good to get back to meals that nourish me. Yet still taste great. Here’s my winter menu for a week of healthy but delicious dinners.

Monday: Leftover lean ground beef and mushroom sloppy joes from our freezer. I still use this old school recipe that my mother cooked. Except I stretch the beef by doubling the other ingredients and adding plenty of mushrooms.  I further lighten it up by using 88% lean ground beef and light buns. Serve this with a salad. 

Tuesday: Turkey Meatball Soup with Spinach and Farro holds promise of being fantastic. And I happen to have a shortcut: pre-cooked turkey meatballs. I’ll sprinkle a bit of parmesan from the recipe onto the soup before serving instead of working it into the meatballs. Extra salad for a side sounds good too. 

Wednesday: Maybe I still have an urge to eat Thanksgiving turkey. So I’ll roast a lean turkey breast along with honey roasted squash with cranberries and feta.

Thursday: Surely we’ll have leftover turkey breast. This autumn turkey and apple salad sounds dope. And fast. 
Friday:  Friday is usually the day when I don’t really feel like cooking. At all. The week is over, and I want something easy to make. Ordering pizza is an option, but so are Protein Up Flatbread pizzas. I have some turkey pepperoni, shredded mozzarella cheese, and pizza sauce waiting to go.

Of course, you can get a lot more creative with your pizza. Arugula, fig, and prosciutto is fancypants. Pineapple and canadian bacon is one of my favorites, and even BBQ chicken. Pizza your face off. 
Saturday: I’ve had a craving for Indian food lately that’s been driving me to distraction. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll make the labor intensive yet incredible Biriyani recipe from Food52.

If I am lacking motivation for that, the Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas and Tofu from the blog Delish Knowledge should do the job too – with much less effort. I like to pair spicy Indian food with cool cucumber salads or a traditional raita

Sunday: Have you heard of celeriac? It’s a root veggie with a bright flavor that I love to mix in with mashed potatoes to make them taste amazing. I’m going to use some to make this wintery celeriac and apple soup to pair with a lean pork tenderloin. I’ll keep the pork prep simple, just roasting it with some herbs, salt, and pepper in the oven.  Sundays are my days to kick back with more cooking and food prep. 

Have a recipe you can’t wait to try or that is one of your beloveds? Your bae? C’mon now, share that in a comment below. 

Top picks for healthy fast food that doesn’t taste like a plate of sadness.

photo credit: PTBO Canada. If only we had a Tim Horton's here.

photo credit: PTBO Canada. If only we had a Tim Horton’s here.

Over the river and through the woods… with a few stops along the way for a bite to eat. But have you wondered what to order when you pull that sleigh up into a fast food parking lot?

Or maybe zombies attack. And you’re trapped at Wendy’s. Grab your machetes and a salad.

Or you’re just hangry, out shopping, and the thought of eating a plate of kale overwhelms you with sadness. 

We all find ourselves out and about and have to grab a quick bite to eat. Most of the time, whether you cook at home or find yourself cruising the drive through, you’ll feel a lot better if you make a healthy choice. Over the last few years I’ve found a few hidden gems at fast food joints. And my clients who travel a lot have unearthed even more.

One thing to keep in mind if you do find yourself eating out frequently is to watch the sodium content of what you choose. A meal here and there is no big deal. But if you’re a frequent traveler, it may impact your health.

Now for the ideas: I’m no scrooge, so I’ll share my top picks with you today. What constitutes a “healthy” meal?

Healthy is a bit of a vague idea. For me, what I choose falls best in line with my overall nutrition goals. It might not be a perfect choice, but you do the best with what you’ve got. So along come my criteria:

  • 500 calories or less – if you have more calories to play with in your day, your meals can have more food. But I’m in the “small and aging” category and a 400 to 500 calorie meal is about a third of my daily maintenance calories.
  • Protein – the more, the better. It preserves muscle and helps you feel full.
  • Veggies –whenever I can find these at a restaurant, I add them to my meal. They’ve got plenty of vitamins and minerals but also filling fiber.
  • Whole grains – if I do choose to eat some delicious carbs, I usually try to find a fiber-rich whole grain source.

Think it can’t be done? It can!

Under the Golden Arches
goldenarch
Classic fast food chains are losing ground to slightly more upscale, not-quite-so-fast restaurants like Chipotle and Panera. But if you’re traveling on the interstate, your restaurant choices become slim. If we’re on the way to grandma’s, we want to make our stop quick and snappy. Here are a few picks from places that you can find nearly everywhere.

KFC
kfcchicken

Look, fried chicken is delicious. But it’s also heavy and high in calories. Instead, go grilled. Their Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is only 180 calories and has 31 grams of protein. Drumsticks are 60 calories and boast 10 grams of protein. Add a side of green beans for only 25 calories more.

Wendy’s
azn-salad
On a wintery day, the large bowl of beefy chili at Wendy’s hits the spot. It’s 250 calories and has 23g of protein and 5g of fiber.

An even better choice is the Asian cashew chicken salad. It comes in at 380 calories, even with the dressing. Yet it also packs a whopping 37g of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

McDonalds
egg-white-delight

There’s always McDonald’s. I have a few favorites here. When you can get breakfast, the Egg White Delight McMuffin has 250 calories, 18 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber.

For lunch or dinner, the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken will give you 29g protein and 2g fiber but only sets you back 220 calories. And if you’re jonesing for something sweet, treat yoself to a low fat vanilla ice cream cone. The full size is 170 calories, but you can get a kiddie cone for only 45 calories.

Burger King
veggie-burger

Skip the mayo on the BK Veggie Burger and you can get a sandwich that’s 310 calories with 6g of fiber and 22g of protein. And it actually tastes good. 

Subway
subway-salad

So this surprised me. You can get a big ass salad at Subway with just about any meat you like and it’s super filling because you pile on a ton of veggies. Yet very low in calories. The Oven Roasted Chicken Salad is only 140 calories yet has 19 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Just don’t ask for a “big ass salad”. They’ll look at you funny.

If you have a craving for a sandwich, order the Rotisserie Style Chicken Sandwich. With cheese, it comes in at 360 calories with 26g protein and 5g of fiber. Skip the heavy dressings and oils and stick to mustard and seasonings – with plenty of veggies packed in.

 

Beyond the basics.

Chipotle
chipotle-salad

All my bro friends love Chipotle. I love Chipotle. I ate it so frequently for a while that I needed a break. No, it’s not authentic Mexican food. But if you’re out and about and need a quick bite, this place will help you out. You can customize just about anything here.

My standard order is a salad. I add double chicken, salsa, pinto beans, and just a tablespoon of guacamole from the big container they give. It comes in at around  520 calories yet has 70g of protein. You can lighten this up a bit by just doing a single serving of chicken. Full bros order double though. It’s science.

 

Panera
thaibrothbowl
Apparently Panera discontinued their secret menu of “power” meals. What a bummer –these were all fresh and used mostly whole foods. But there are some solid choices you can still grab. Some of their salads are seasonal and you can’t get them all year round. But most of their salads are relatively reasonable for calories and several are moderately high in protein.

In the winter, though, soup sounds even better to me. The new Thai Garden Chicken Wonton broth bowl is 290 calories, contains 4g fiber and 23g protein. A bowl of turkey chili contains 260 calories, 17g protein, and a hefty 16g fiber. Order the apple for your side instead of bread or chips and you’ll have a healthy spanking meal.

Culver’s
baconbleu
I associate Culver’s with delicious but greasy butter burgers. I mean, butter burger. Just say that. So I drove past Culver’s until my friend Angie tipped me off to the Cranberry Bacon Bleu Salad with Grilled Chicken. It has 360 calories and 44g of protein. And bacon. Whoa.

Starbucks

photo credit: peanut butter runner

photo credit: peanut butter runner

Aside from coffee and calorie-laden coffee drinks, Starbucks has a few healthy breakfast and lunches you can enjoy. Some locations carry more things than others. But for breakfast, I love to order a breakfast sandwich. The Egg White, Spinach & Feta Wrap has 290 calories, 6g of fiber, and 19g of protein. And it’s delicious.

The Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich is also a solid choice, especially if you’re craving some bread. It’s 320 calories with 18g of protein and 3g of fiber.

Chick-Fil-A
chicfilawrap

Grab the Grilled Chicken Wrap and you’ll be able to feast for only 340 calories – yet stay full with 15g of fiber and 36g of protein.

Other Quick Tips
You don’t always get to choose your restaurant. Maybe you have a meeting or your family outvoted you. These tips will help you make good choices wherever you land.

  • Order grilled meat instead of fried. And if it comes on a bun, either eat half the bun or ditch it entirely.
  • Look for salads – even a plain green salad can be punched up with a burger or chicken breast to give you extra veggies and a lighter but filling meal.
  • Beware of dressings on salads: they can easily add hundreds of extra calories. Don’t ditch it entirely, because your body needs a little fat to absorb the nutrients from your greens. Just order it on the side and use a small amount.
  • For breakfast, several places now offer oatmeal. If you’re looking for some good whole grain fuel, this is a good choice. Just watch your toppers. Ditch the dried fruit and extra sugar. If you can grab a banana or other whole fruit, add that instead.
  • Choose whole meats and veggies over sandwiches and pasta dishes most of the time if you’re trying to lower calories and amp up protein.
  • For soups, creamy soups are usually high in calories. Order a small cup instead of a large bowl to enjoy these and amp up your nutrition with a side salad.

Phew. We made it. Those are my current favorite finds. What are yours? Share them in a comment below!

Meal Planning Monday: December 18, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh hey there! Are you set for the holidays? I just realized that Christmas is only a week away and I don’t have my shiz together quite yet. Meals this week need to be simple. And warm. So warm. 

The requirement for meals this week is that they need to be light, budget friendly, and quick to prep. I’m saving up all my money and cooking mojo for Christmas day. 

Here’s what’s cooking: 

Monday: Autumn turkey burger with spicy honey drizzle. I’ve made these several times now and keep going back for more. Nom nom nom. I’ll serve with a beet salad on the side. 

Tuesday: Tuna cakes with sriracha light mayo sauce and mixed green salad. 

Wednesday: Crockpot pizza chicken and veggies. Low calorie, low cost, low time involved. Plus, you know, pizza. 

Thursday: Leftovers or soup from the freezer. One easy, budget friendly soup I make and freeze is chicken enchiladas soup. It’s cheap and easy. Plus you can throw the whole mess in your slow cooker. 

Friday: Fish tostadas with chili lime cream. I have made my own version of this with the tortilla crusted tilapia filets from Costco. Many supermarkets carry something similar. Cheat your face off and make these fast. 

Saturday: Christmas eve dinner with my family. We’re keeping it simple with a Chipotle style DIY burrito bar. 

Sunday: Christmas Dinner! I’ve never cooked a crown roast of pork before. It looks fancy, even without those weird little paper hats on the tips. Here is my menu:

Crown roast of pork with apple stuffing
My mom’s cranberry sauce
Butternut squash and rutabaga puree
Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with bacon, meyer lemon, and dried tart cherries
Chocolate peppermint ice cream cake

What’s your favorite part of holiday dinners? The main meat? The sides? The eggnog? Leave a comment and share. Happy holidays!

The last minute holiday gift list for gym rats.

fitsantsaDo you have all your holiday shopping wrapped up and ready to go?

No? Neither do I. Let us pause for a moment and thank the shopping Gods for the biggest gift of all: overnight shipping. 

I’ve thumbed through plenty of magazine articles with ideas for fit gifts. Some of them are great – many of them are aimed more at “yoga chicks who like fancy mats” than what I’m into. Fancy mats are cool too. But I’d like to move into some other territory. 

From gym tools and bags to easy DIY treats, I’ve got the gifts to grab this season. 

Gym Tools
These aren’t shiny and pretty, but they are useful. And sometimes that’s the best kind of gift to get:

Slingshot Hip Circle  $25

slingshot-hip-circle

The slingshot hip circle is an odd little tool that may make your glutes scream. I slip it right above my knees and use it for hip thrusts and lateral band walks. The inward pressure of the band encourages you to press back against it. The result is you lighting up your hips and butt like a Christmas tree. You can choose different levels of stretchiness – so pay attention to the details on each band.

 

Serious Steel Resistance Bands – from $10 depending on size
serious-steel

If you work out at a gym without these, quit that gym. Ok, I kid – but these are staple gym tools. If you don’t have any, grab a few to use for everything from assisted chin ups, band pull aparts and banded hip thrusts to pallof presses and triceps press downs. I think I pull one out in every single workout.

Buy a whole set, or pick one that fits the exercise you’d like to do.

Schlep Your Stuff
I really need a new gym bag. Currently I use worn out backpacks and sometimes stuff my gym shoes into my purse. That’s sad. Everyone loves a new bag, especially one of these:

Adidas Squad 3 $45
adidas-squad-3
The colors on this bag make it fun to tote. It also has an outside compartment to isolate your stinky shoes and sweaty clothes.

Lole Deena Duffel $85.99
lole-deena-duffel
This would make a good weekender bag as well as a gym tote. I like that it has plenty of room. Yoga people will appreciate the mat keeper, and it has several pockets for stashing all your random stuff you take to the gym. Plus it’s cute. Cute is good.
Sometimes you should go outside…

Flipbelt $28.99 and up
flip-belt
You know what’s B.S. about tights? They feel so good and yet rarely have pockets. Or pockets big enough to actually hold anything. When I walk outside, I find myself shoving my phone and my keys into my bra. Then I have that weird lumpy boob thing, and a sweaty phone at the end. Did I just overshare? I know someone out there is nodding their head.

This thing is cool. I like that it has a lightweight look to it and isn’t really a fanny pack. Yet it’s totally a fanny pack: just a sleek one for sportsing.

Wearable Safety Lights $19.95
safetylights
My friend Emily jogs in a bright reflective vest for her early morning sessions. I tease her and call her “safety ninja”, but she’s smart: getting hit by a car while on an early morning run, bike ride, or walk is no joke. Plus I think these things would make me feel like a little kid with light up shoes. 

Being able to slip them on to whatever shoes you’re wearing is helpful: if you cycle some days and walk on others, you’ll be set for both. The company sells glow bracelets too and other light up pieces, in case you want to pile it all on and pretend you’re going to a rave during your workout.

Healthy cooking
Everyone likes to eat. And if you eat well, you probably like new cooking inspiration. 

Subscription to Cooking Light $9.95
cooking-light

This magazine has provided me with so many easy and delicious meals over the years that I have to mention it. I appreciate that the mag always provides calorie and macronutrient counts as well as clear cut serving sizes. There are plenty of kid-friendly recipes in each issue too.

The Skinnytaste Fast and Slow Cookbook $18.00
skinnytaste

I’ve been a long time follower of blogger Gina Homolka of Skinnytaste. She’s published a few cookbooks but this is the first I’ve purchased. After cooking many home run hits from the book I can safely recommend that you go out and buy this book – as a gift to a fit-minded friend or for yourself.

Many cookbooks labeled “healthy” don’t provide much detail for the nutritional content of each meal. Homolka does that for every recipe in the book. Nothing in here tastes like “diet” food, and she’s creative without diving into the territory of exotic and impractical. That makes for perfect weeknight cooking.

Eating in the Middle $17.49
eating-in-the-middle
I fell in love with this cookbook. Not just because the recipes are wholesome, satisfying, and creative: but because author Andie Mitchell weaves a narrative that feels so close to home. She struggled with obesity, lost weight, and somehow had to find her own sustainable, middle ground. She doesn’t demonize food nor ignore the importance of nourishing ourselves. She finds the happy place, and it shows in her foods and words.

 

Flavor Kit from Raw Spice Bar – as low as $6/month for 3, 6, or 12 month subscription.
rawspicebar

Raw Spice Bar sent me a flavor kit to try. I received three packages of fragrant, globally inspired spice blends. They came coupled with recipe cards to give me cooking ideas. One of their recipes was a bit of a bust, but the others were outstanding. I’d buy this for just the spice blends and cooking inspiration. It makes for an unusual and healthy gift for anyone who likes to play in the kitchen. Use code FLAVOR6 to get a $5 discount. 

Splurge worthy
Fitbit Charge 2 $129.99
fitbit-charge-2
Verizon sent me this Fitbit Charge 2 to test drive and I have to admit: I was completely prepared to hate it. I get most of my movement at the gym through strength and conditioning work. Using a tool to check calorie burn is short sighted. Goals like building muscle and burning fat have a lot less to do with how many calories you burn in your workout and more to do with the effectiveness of your work and your dedication to your nutrition.

Still, the Fitbit did a few great things for me:

-It showed me that on many days, I sit on my butt way too long before getting out of my chair to move around.

-It helped me see that I wasn’t sleeping all that well at night and gave me a shove to nail down better sleep routines. I’m already sleeping better.

-It created reminders for me with the use of an app that you pair with the phone. I can track my water intake, movement breaks, total steps, and more. I get to decide which things I want to work on and the FitBit reminds me to get on that.

You can check your heart rate, count your calorie burn, and more. The beauty of the FitBit is that you can use it for what helps you, and just ignore the other features. For many of my clients, tracking daily steps motivates them to move more. And I call that a win.

Other cool things: it looks like a sleek watch instead of a clunky sports tool. It also now has interchangeable straps to make it look like a pretty piece of jewelry. I’m a girly girl and stand behind this.

TRX Suspension Starter Kit – $130
trx
If you work out at home, I wouldn’t call this a splurge – I’d call it a smart investment. One of the biggest issues with home-based workouts is needing a ton of dumbbells to get going. It’s also difficult to find exercises to do for the back when you’re without much equipment. The TRX is one of my go-to tools for rowing variations as well as brutal core exercises.

Lululemon Fast as Light Tights – $118
fast-as-light-tight
I will never own enough “pants that aren’t really pants”. There, I’ve said it. I poo-pooed Lululemon for a long time because they’re expensive. But I haven’t found another pair of yoga pants that makes my butt look like theirs do. They have some kind of butt-lifting pixie dust inside them. Now you know the secret. They also last forever and feel comfy all day. Buy some for your best friend or yourself. Unlike some brands, I find that Lululemon runs a bit small, so size up.

Fun and fresh
Not Vodka Water Bottle Mini Bullet 17 oz. $25. 
notvodka

Larger sizes are available too but this smaller one makes a great gift for $25. It’ll keep your water (or notvodka) cold for 30 hours and hot for 12. Non-toxic, non-leaching, BPA free. I own way too many water bottles, but I keep this one with me the most. Mostly because it makes me smile. 

Cozy Leg Warmer by Hansel from Basel, Inc. $48.
cozy-leg-warmer
I have a bunch of crop length workout pants that I normally don’t wear in the winter because I’m a delicate freaking flower and my ankles get cold. Duh, why not wear leg warmers? Plus we can channel the 80’s. These are super luxe, but any pair will do.

Tank tops from Raygun. $21+
sunsoutraygun
This store is a Des Moines original but you can nab their rad clothes and accessories online too. Along with a mind blowing selection of t-shirts, Raygun carries fun tanks and hoodies. Pair with your “pants that aren’t really pants”. 

Homemade and heartfelt. 
Gifts don’t need to make you go broke. Some of the best gifts just require a little effort. Here are a few DIY ideas that won’t make you want to scream at your Pinterest app. 

Sure, you could make soothing salves, bath bombs, and scrubs. But most of us who work out hard also love to eat. So my picks are all things that are things to nibble – low calorie but also slightly indulgent. 

Meringues
meringues

These little clouds are only 8 calories per cookie. WHAT?? And they actually taste good. Make one batch for a friend and another for yourself. You can also easily change up the flavoring by subbing in other extracts. I think almond would be amazing. 

Southwestern Three Bean and Barley Soup Mix
beanbarleysoup-mix

Soup mixes make a pretty looking gift when layered in a mason jar. Yeah yeah, mason jars are so 2014. But they work here. Plus who doesn’t love a dinner that’s ready to go on a cold winter night? 

DIY Protein Puppy Chow Mix
protein-puppy-chow-pinterest

Alright. I’m just going to come out and say that if you put a bowl of the classic peanut butter and chocolate treat known as “puppy chow” in front of me I would demolish it. Why not make this slightly healthier, bro’ed up version – in a portion controlled package? 

Skinny Hot Chocolate
skinny-hot-chocolate

I love the creative smoothie ideas from Dashing Dish, so it’s no surprise that this blogger’s hot cocoa mix is wonderful too. Put this mix into pretty jars and give a toasty gift for a chilly day. 

Raspberry Orange Chia Jam
chia-jam
Chia does amazing things for jam – not only is it packed with fiber and nutrients, it gels up fruit to create a jam-like consistency. This lower sugar jam would make a perfect treat. 

Give back

photo credit: girls on the run

photo credit: girls on the run

One of the best ways to feel the holiday spirit is to make a donation or volunteer for a charity. One of my favorite experiences was coaching with Girls on the Run, an organization that helps young girls build confidence and life skills through weekly activities and running games. 

Have any fit gift ideas or things on your own list? Leave a comment below and share. Happy holidays!

 

Disclosure: a few links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you buy from them, I’ll receive a few pennies from your purchase. This will go straight toward my coffee habit. Thank you! xoxo.

Meal Planning Monday: December 11, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1]

It’s cold. Yeah, yeah, it’s December. It’s supposed to be cold in Iowa. But we were spoiled. So now I’m freezing my tuchus off. So this week I want mostly soups and warm stuff to put in my belly. 

Making soup is a perfect way to stockpile some extra meals – most soups freeze really well. So make a giant batch and stash some extra meals away for later. 

Here’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods this week:

Monday: The easiest Thai chicken soup – get some Tom Ka paste from an Asian market. I simmer cooked chicken with a can  of light coconut milk, 2 cups of chicken stock, a bag of stir fry veggies, and a bit of curry paste. Sometimes I add extra bamboo shoots or water chestnuts. Yum. 

Tuesday: Slow cooker pork loin with apples and sage. I might be gross because I use bottled gravy in this recipe, but it’s so good. And so easy. Come at me. I’ll serve with mashed cauliflower. 

Wednesday: Slow cooker mu shu chicken wraps. Just cook boneless skinless chicken breasts with a half bottle of stir-fry sauce for 4-6 hours. Shred, add the rest of the bottle of sauce, along with a bag of broccoli slaw. Serve as is or wrap that up in tortillas or low carb wraps. 

Thursday: Kiddo has a choir concert. So we need a quick meal: deli turkey, Greek yogurt cream cheese, and apples on low-carb flatouts it is. I will also stuff them with mixed greens and the kids will complain about their horrible lots in life. 

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: Ottolenghi’s chickpea, tomato, and bread soup. If I could cook one chef’s meals for all my days, it would be his. 

Sunday: Bouillabaise. Because I’ve always wanted to make bouillabaise, and I like saying bouillabaise. So I’m going to try it. This is a simplified version of a French fisherman’s stew. Serve with crusty whole grain bread. 

What’s on your menu this week? Leave a comment and share! 

 

Superfoods aren’t real, but these foods are super.

cinderellaIf you stuff a smoothie with maca powder, quinoa, acai berries, hemp seeds, and cacao, will you fly? Or at least be tremendously healthy? In other words, what’s up with superfoods?

Get back to me on how that smoothie goes. But I don’t think you can walk into a grocery store these days without seeing something labeled as a superfood. The words conjurs up all sorts of imagery, doesn’t it?

I imagine a superfood makes my insides kick ass like Salley O’Malley. You know, glowing and full of energy. 

salley

But why do some things get labeled as superfoods? Have you ever wondered if they really deserve such a grandiose title?

I walked into a market this morning and was reminded of some of the misconceptions about how we think about food as it relates to our health. Just check out this snapshot:

superfoods

And then I peered a little closer. Chocolate covered goji berries. What the hell is a goji berry, anyway? I’ll answer that for you in just a bit. But first, let’s talk about the idea of a “superfood.”

 
Do superfoods even exist?
The most common benefit associated with most things labeled as superfoods is antioxidant power. Stay with me for a moment so I can science you.

Some foods contain chemicals that seem to counteract the effects of oxidative damage. If the processes in our body create too much oxidative stress, it can damage our cells.

That’s not so super. Too much production of things like free radicals and things like oxygen ions and other chemical reactions may cause disease and other unhealthy conditions within the body.  

And so it seems like we’d want to grab onto anything that can prevent oxidative damage. Interestingly, sometimes that damage is a good thing. For example, when we get injured, inflammation helps us heal up.

So a certain degree of oxidative damage is normal in our bodies – if we are healthy.

Magic juices and other tales

photo credit: mr. ginseng

photo credit: mr. ginseng

You’ve probably heard of certain fruits being full of antioxidants: acai, goji, pomegranate, in particular. Berries are particularly rich sources of plant chemicals like polyphenols, stilbenoids, and tannins.

And these compounds have an association with combating bad juju like inflammation, cancer, certain neural issues, cardiovascular disease, and other disease states.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply gorge on foods that have high antioxidant ratings and automatically improve our health. That’s because the way that nutrients interact with each other in our body to produce effects is still a bit of a mystery.

We do know that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent disease. But we don’t know if it’s the fact that they have antioxidant properties or rather other compounds that influence a healthier body.

You need to remember two big things when considering choosing food for your health:

All foods are useful to our body.
We need to eat them in proportions that serve our overall health from diverse sources. That means plenty of whole foods rich in nutrients and less of those things that are nutrient poor (especially if they’re very dense in calories.)

But every food can be super. Even a donut before working out. It’s still fuel. Some foods just let us meet our goals more easily than others. 

Many items labeled as superfoods are no healthier than other whole foods that we eat.
And they probably won’t do anything remarkable except put a giant dent in your wallet. Some also are basically junk food masquerading as health food, which confuses people. And that stinks.

Check out my chocolate covered goji berries.
chocolategojiomg

As a treat? Sure, if that’s your thing. I’m more of a Raisinets fan, personally. But if you’re looking for a big boost of nutrition, don’t buy candy. 

So what foods are super if superfoods are merely make believe?

My personal list of “super” foods includes those foods that do a bang up job of helping you eat for a happy, healthy life. Here are just a few of the many good things to put into your belly.

Whole fruits and vegetables.

veggies
You knew I’d say that one, right? Fruits and veggies are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, energy-giving carbohydrates, and fiber. They taste amazing. They’re not hard to find. And these keep you feeling full and nourished. Eat lots. 

In fact, if you’re currently struggling to eat well, start by adding a fruit or vegetable to your day. Don’t obsess about packing your diet with expensive, exotic bags of “superfoods.” Eat more colorful stuff. Or as my friend and trainer Jenna says, “green shit”. Eat more green shit. 

But what about those goji berries? I’ve only found them in dried, powdered, or juice form.

I bought some to test out. They looked a little chewy, like dried fruit. Except harvested by ancient people from somewhere. The bag boasted their innumerable health benefits, including fiber and protein but seemed to convey a sense of specialness that one could only obtain for about $12 a bag. Hmmm.

I had a hankering for some Greek yogurt and needed a topping, because I’m fancy. So I weighed out a half portion of goji berries along with a half cup of fresh raspberries.

berries

Here’s how they stack up nutritionally:

Goji Berries (14g)
Calories: 50
Protein: 2g
Carbs: 14g
Fat: 0g
Fiber: 2.5g
Sugar: 6.5g
Random nutrient perks: high in fiber, vitamin C, like other berries, high in antioxidant compounds. May interact with certain meds, especially blood thinners.

Raspberries (68g, about ½ cup serving)
Calories: 26
Protein: .5g
Carbs: 6g
Fat: 0g
Fiber: 3.5g
Sugar: 2g
Random nutrient perks: high in fiber, vitamin C, and manganese, along with other vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.

Nutritionally speaking, the raspberries have less sugar, a bit more fiber than the goji berries. Neither one is a terrible choice for a snack, but I’d prefer a big bowl of raspberries over the calorie dense dried berries. Plus the goji berries tasted rather blah to me.

Lean protein
meat

Protein is full of amino acids that build up your body – and your muscles. Protein- rich foods help you maintain and build muscle mass. They also help you stay full longer. Choose them from a variety of sources, especially:

  • Lean meats and fish
  • Dairy (Greek yogurt is my best friend)
  • Eggs
  • Plant-based proteins from soy, legumes, etc. (Try tempeh, tofu, chickpeas, and beans)

By mixing it up, you’ll get the unique nutrients that each kind provides.

Healthy fats
You need fat in your diet. For your overall health, energy, and hormonal function. And because things like salmon and avocado taste pretty freaking fantastic. Foods with fat also may contain a healthy portion of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – your body can’t make them, so you need to get them from foods.

Plus fat helps you absorb all those powerful nutrients in your veggies. Don’t go fat free: just eat them in small amounts at your meals to get their health benefits while keeping your calories in check. 

Whole grains
Whole grains can reduce your risk of getting certain diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Eat starchy whole grains around workouts to fuel yourself. I set aside packaged cereals and bars most of the time. Instead, try cooking up batches of oatmeal, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, and other minimally processed foods. My favorite one lately is farro: it’s nutty, chewy, and easy to cook. 

Funky fermented foods
kimchi

Good bacteria in our gut has the power to improve our digestion and boost our immunity. Gut health is a fairly young area of nutrition research. What kinds of fermented foods should you eat?

Think kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and yogurt, for starters. Fermented foods contain probiotics that can help keep your gut healthy. As a bonus, many of them are relatively low in calories and perk up other food you’re eating. Kimchi in my scrambled eggs is now my thing. Try it, I dare you.

Foods that allow you to maintain your weight more easily.
Sometimes I get the urge to munch on things. Especially if you’re working on fat loss, having low calorie options available can make it way easier to meet your goal. Try celery, strawberries, pickles, and even sugar-free jello. No, the chemicals won’t kill you. Yes, it’ll take the edge off the urge to eat a pint of ice cream.

Foods that bring you life happiness.

This is actually real.

This is actually real. And it is a glorious junk food. 

No, you probably shouldn’t eat a pint of ice cream on the regular. But leaving room in your life for foods that you love is just as important as eating for your health. Truly. You’ll be less likely to go off the rails if you know that no food is off limits. Who cares if it unlocks the secrets of the Mayans? If it tastes good, have a little bit from time to time. After all, Captain Crunch may have a few secrets of his own. 

References
Seeram N. Berry fruits: compositional elements, biochemical activities, and the impact of their intake on human health, performance, and disease. J. Agric Food Chem. 2008: 56(3): 627-629.

Dragsted LO, Pedersen A, Hermetter A et al.The 6-a-day study: effects of fruit and vegetables on markers of oxidative stress and antioxidative defense in healthy nonsmokers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004:79(6):1060-72.

Meal Planning Monday: December 4th, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh helloooooo. It’s time to plan. So that when the thing hits the you-know-what, you at least have dinner prepped. 

I feel like I returned from battle yesterday after buying my groceries for the week. The store was so busy it seemed like people were prepping for a zombie apocalypse. Instead, I think it was just a really good sale combined with the weather forecast predicting snow. People start buying milk and bread and basically lose their minds. This always amuses me a whole lot. 

But I have milk and bread now. And all the things to make this week’s meals. Check out mine here:

Monday: Lightened up Parmesan chicken: just skip the breading and bake chicken breasts. I sprinkle with Italian seasoning and salt then bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Toss on some cheese and marinara and bake 5-10 minutes more: until the sauce is warm and the cheese is melty. Serving with sauteed spinach instead of pasta – but have a bit on the side if you’re craving some. 

Tuesday: spicy California shrimp stacks from Skinnytaste. How freaking clever are these? I’ll serve with a cucumber sesame salad on the side. 

Wednesday: Chicken spinach frittata with leftover chicken from Monday. Add bits of whatever veggies you have around, and you can play with cheese. Here’s one variation from an Oregon Cottage. 

Thursday: Turkey taco stuffed sweet potatoes. Just use lean ground turkey and make taco filling from it. I like to add homemade taco seasoning, a bit of salsa, and a can of black beans to the meat. Then stuff your baked/microwaved sweet potatoes. Top with plain Greek yogurt and/or a little cheese. Nom nom. 

Tip: if you can, make a giant batch of the taco meat. Freeze the extras and then you can use this as a super fast dinner on crazy nights. 

Friday: Hey family, make your own damn dinner! Or… leftovers/cooked soups I found in the deep freezer. 

Saturday: Lower calorie Shepherd’s pie. Just take your favorite recipe and use 90% lean ground beef, plenty of veggies, and top with a mixture of mashed cauliflower and potato. Using buttermilk and cutting back on butter helps scale back calories for mashed potatoes. I’ll put some umami bombs into the sauce with cues from Serious Eats. 

Sunday: Roasted turkey tenderloins (I get these inexpensively at Aldi) with cranberry shallot sauce from Eating Well. Steamed green beans and roasted sweet potatoes on the side, because I’m still feeling Thanksgiving in my soul. 

What’s for dinner at your house this week? Have something good? Share it in a comment below. Happy cooking! 

Old school lifting techniques to build maximum muscle (with maximum fun).

titanicfunnybodybuildingBeing strong is empowering: exhilarating, even, much like Rose must have felt out there on the bow of the Titanic. Before it met its demise of course.

Getting strong makes you feel more confident and capable – for everything that life tosses your way, including sinking ships (probably). 

But I also like to look like I lift. Maybe I’m becoming a vain old lady. But I don’t care. Seeing my muscles get bigger and stronger is a reminder of all my hard work. Plus people don’t always realize an important truth: you can’t train only in that low rep, heavy range all year long.

First of all, it can be really hard on your body to train hard and heavy 100% of the time.
Second, it becomes really boring to do the same training regimen all the time. 

And finally… at a certain point, you need to grow your muscle. That means less of the big heavy stuff and more of the higher rep, lighter movements. You want hypertrophy – that’s muscle growth – to happen.

That’s how I’ve been working during the last few months. My own coach, Jordan Syatt, has been introducing me to all sorts of hypertrophy work. And I’ve shocked myself with just how much fun I’m having in the gym. My joints feel great. I’m building muscle and getting stronger. 

Like so many others who do hypertrophy training, I’ve been using several “old school” gym classics. The ones that bodybuilders have been using since back in the day, when Arnold and Lou Ferrigno went head to head to compete in Mr. Olympia. You can watch that play out in the movie Pumping Iron. It’s fantastic. It’ll get you pumped too.

pumpingiron

Which brings me to these muscle pumping tricks you should try. There are scores of techniques that bodybuilders use to maximize things that will help you sculpt lean and mean muscle.

Why do they work? Because they play on some of the big mechanisms that allow muscle growth to happen: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. Those three ideas are big enough that they deserve their own article.

But in short:

1. You need to be doing movements that maximize your time under tension. You’ll still include heavy enough lifting to exert large amounts of force.

2. You’ll do work that gets “the pump” – blood flowing into your muscle cells, will help your muscles grow.

3. Fatiguing your muscle fibers is a must. You wear them down – break them down, actually. And in repairing that damage you’ll grow them.

These techniques were used by lifters long before we even understood many of those principles that explain why lifters used them with success.

Serious lifters have tinkered and toiled with all sorts of  training variables. It’s key to remember that not everyone will respond the same way to them. But there are many tried and true ways of building muscle that may help you get over humps, maximize your effort, and invigorate your time at the gym.

Give these a try as you move through your training year: 

Pre-fatigue sets
I’ve been doing them before my main lift of the day. This seemed crazy to me at first. Why would I want to wear myself out on purpose?

When you’re building muscle, your goal isn’t to PR your bench press total. It’s to build your muscles that help you bench press. Pre fatigue sets help you break down muscle tissue more effectively when you work on that big lift. They also help me connect my mind to my muscle as I prepare to do the big work. This allows you to work your muscles even better during your lift.

How to do them:
Before one of your heavy “big” lifts: like a bench press or a squat, use an isolation movement at a fairly light weight first. Before I bench press heavy sets of 6 reps, I might do 2-3 sets of something to target my pecs: like the squeeze press or a pec fly. It lets me both fatigue my pecs and also get a good feel for those muscles, which helps me hammer them better during my main work. Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps.

 
Rest-pause sets
If you want to maximize intensity and fatigue, a rest pause set can do the job. It also lets you squeeze in some more reps, giving you the opportunity to spend more time stimulating your muscles over the span of a set.  These work especially well in slightly lower rep ranges. And they work great for not only building muscle but building strength. Particularly with moves that you feel limited to doing for only a few reps because they’re really difficult.

I used rest-pause training to get more quality reps done in my chin ups when I could only do a few at a time.

How to do them
:
Complete your reps for your set. Let’s take lat pulldowns for 8 reps.

After you perform your set, wait 10-15 seconds.

Do your lat pulldowns again for as many reps as you can do.

Wait another 10-15 seconds. Then do it again.

You can add another mini set to your one big rest-pause set. Wait a few minutes, and then do 1-2 more rounds.

Drop sets are not comfortable. But you'll love them anyway.

Drop sets are not comfortable. But you’ll love them anyway.

Drop sets
The Arnold called these “strip sets”. And no, you’re not stripping, though that would be quite something at the gym. But this technique allows you to fatigue your muscles like crazy, which is key to growth.

How to do them:
Use these as an accessory lift during your session. Start with a weight you can lift for 6-10 reps. Do as many reps as you can, then lower your weight. Either take plates off your barbell, grab lighter dumbbells, lower the weight on the cable stack… you get the idea.

Now immediately complete as many reps as you can at this lighter weight – which is usually 25%-30% lighter than what you chose the first time. It will be hellishly hard.

But wait, there’s more: lower the weight again. And maybe even one more time, for funsies. Do that. Now rest a few minutes, and do it all again.

Try 3 sets of drop sets the next time you frolic at the gym. I’m doing them this month with hammer curls and triceps press downs.

Eccentric sets
Create more time under tension to build more muscle. Eccentric sets slow down your movement during the eccentric, or lengthening muscle contraction. They also force you to maintain better control, which translates to better technique and bigger gainz.

How to do them:
Pick any move that you want to improve or focus on for more muscle building. I’ve used them on the lowering phase of a lying hamstring curl; the lowering portion of a pushup; the second phase of a lat-pulldown as I control the rise of the bar to its starting position. And an eccentric squat is a particularly brutal way to build strength and control by taking a full 4 to 5 seconds to lower yourself into the bottom position.

Keep the reps on the lower side for these, as you’ll already be spending more time on each rep. Anywhere from 5-10 reps is a sweet spot.

firegirl

AMRAP
Training coach Bridget Schmitt of Guns and Poses Fitness is also a figure pro and powerlifter who loves (and loves to hate) AMRAP sets. AMRAP means “as many reps as possible” and it’s a tool for not only building strength and muscle: it allows her to test her limits. 

“I like to be competitive with myself every time I lift. Mentally I have to push everything else aside when I AMRAP”.

How to do it:
Schmitt doesn’t always use AMRAP in her training, but when she does, she uses them after completing a few working sets. On her final two sets she pushes herself to take them to their limits – AMRAP. 

Finishers – the final burn. 
Want to make sure you REALLY fatigue and burn out a muscle group? Try a sweeping, final flourish using light weight and a ton of reps.

Jenny Leonard, aka “JennyB”, a nutrition/wellness coach with Guns and Poses, also competes as a bikini competitor in bodybuilding. She finds that many popular hypertrophy techniques like drop sets don’t work as well for building her physique. But she loves high rep finishers for building her glutes. Jenny uses banded hip thrusts, glute bridges, monster and lateral band walks, and body weight frog pumps to set her glutes on fire – and help them grow.

How to do it:
Pick a move to tack on to the end of your main strength work. I’ve been doing 1 set of 50 bent rear delt raises at the end of my upper body workouts. For glute work, I often do 2-3 sets of banded hip thrusts in an AMRAP, or create a mini finisher circuit of several moves that all target one muscle group. 

If using additional weight, choose a load that is light enough to make these hard but completable. You may have to pause for a few seconds during the work, but try to keep it going with little to no rest.

Century sets
Fit pro Tanner Baze shared one of his favorite variations for a final flourish: century sets. Perform them alone, or better yet, with a partner.

How to do them:
You complete 100 reps with light weight, and then your partner does the same. I imagined that you’d do this only one time, but gym crazies may actually do a few of these. The partner will definitely help keep you going because you may want to quit the gym about halfway in.

weight-rack

Run the Rack
Tanner also reminded me of another of Arnold’s favorite moves: running the rack. This is another workout finisher that turns that brutal, fatiguing work you do into a game of sorts.

How to do it:
Choose a dumbbell exercise for your last move of the day. Pick up some dumbbells that are heavy enough that you will only be able to do around 6 reps. Complete those reps, then put them back and immediately grab a pair that are 5 pounds lighter. Complete another 5-6 reps. Keep “running the rack” down until you hit a weight that is so light that you can easily do more than 6 reps.

All of these moves have the ability to boost your muscle building mojo. Many of them will feel hellishly hard. But your mind will stay engaged and I’m willing to bet you’ll have fun.

For the long haul, enjoying what you do and staying present during your workouts is going to help you make just as much progress as following a solid program. Stay present, work hard, and enjoy the process. Then go flex.

Want to talk workouts, healthy eats, and how to build a body that feels and looks fiiiiiine? Sign up below to get my emails delivered right into your inbox. I’ll send you Fat Loss on a Budget plus other fit goodness on the regular.