Tag Archives: nutrition

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.

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 for November 14, 2016

meal-plan-monday-1

Oh hey there!

I’m starting a new series in the spirit of meal prep. Why? Because having a plan for the week makes healthy eating way less bumpy. 

I hesitate to say “meal planning” because people think of that as a rigid set of meals that they have to eat. Eat whatever you like! But once my menu for the week is set, I can chill out and know that dinner will happen without a last minute trip to the grocery store. 

I usually work off of what I have hanging out in my fridge, pantry, and freezer when I design my weekly dinner menus. I can whip up breakfast or lunch from most anything I have in the house. But dinner takes a little more planning. 

If that all feels overwhelming, start by reading a peek inside a week of healthy meal planning. 

Then if you’re needing a bit of inspiration, check out my menu each week and nab whatever sounds yummy. I try to choose dinners that have a fairly high protein count, are reasonably low in calories, and taste great. 

Some meals take a little more prep than others. If I make soup or stew I usually double the batch and freeze one. Then I have some “no cook” nights for when the you-know-what hits the fan. 

Meal Plan for November 14, 2016

Monday: Sauteed skillet of chicken apple sausages, cubed butternut squash, and brussels sprouts. (I just cook these together with a little thyme and smoky paprika.)

Tuesday: Leftover Turkey Chili from the freezer with mixed greens.

Wednesday: Lasagna soup with mixed greens.

Thursday: Apple stuffed pork loin with Moroccan spices. Roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes on the side.

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: One Pot Red Beans and Rice with Turkey Kielbasa

Sunday: Maple glazed baked salmon with pears, Brussels Sprouts, and whipped cauliflower/potato mash. 

Have a go to recipe that you’d like to share or even your menu for the week? Lay it on us! Just leave a comment below. 

Can’t take another shake? Try these ways to use your protein powder.

I giggled.

I giggled.

Do you have a bag of protein powder sitting in your pantry? Sweet: you’re in business today. 

If you’re like me, your containers may be collecting dust. I go through phases with how I choose to get more muscle building protein into my diet. Lately I feel ‘meh’ about protein shakes. Especially now that it’s autumn and I just want to bake things. And shove them in my belly. 

Protein shakes can save the day. Whey protein in particular is top notch for being easy to digest, quick to whip up into a shake with nothing more than water, and relatively cheap to boot. There are other kinds of protein powders too, and you can learn more about how they work here. 

You can fancy them up too with some milk, fruit, and whatever else you can dream if you’re feeling like channeling your inner Top Chef. 

Sometimes I’d rather eat more “food food” for my protein intake. You know – meat, fish, eggs, lentils, or a bunch of Greek yogurt. Sometimes I can’t stomach the idea of sucking  down yet another protein shake. Still, using protein powder makes it way, way easier for me to hit my daily protein target. And it’s a high quality source of those amino acids your body needs to build those gains. 

If you’re feeling burned out on bro shakes but want to get that extra boost from a powder, here are a few ways you can shake things up (without the shaker bottle). 

 

Spiced Pear Rice Pudding
rice-pudding

Use whatever kind of rice you have sitting around for this not-too-sweet dessert that works for breakfast too. The idea is simple: use equal parts rice and milk, add a splash of vanilla and a little bit of spice. I substituted pear for my usual apple, added a pinch of cardamom, and sprinkled on a few teaspoons of hazelnuts. 

Get the recipe here. 

Mug Cakes
lemon protein cake
Protein mug cakes are a thing now. Usually you microwave them and they become rubbery and sad. Yes, an affront to cakery. Is that a word? In any case, I almost always skip these. I’ve found a few good tips if you do decide to nuke one. The power level in your microwave should stay at around 30% power as you bake your cake. Start with a minimal time-  like 30 seconds. And then check.

The kind of protein you use makes a difference when baking with powder. Whey protein absorbs less liquid than other protein powders, so be wary of substituting when you follow a recipe. 

Or you can just bake your little cake in the oven, as I did with my lemon protein mug cake. It was surprisingly tasty and felt like dessert. Or breakfast dessert. 

Rating: 1 or 9, depending on your recipe. The lemon was a 9 for “almost real dessert”. 

Sludge
sludge
This recipe isn’t pretty. It sounds kind of gross. But it’s a chocolatey way to increase your protein intake. I added a few teaspoons of peanut butter chips. Because peanut butter is life, and I was PMSing like a beast. You know, weeping intermittently while watching the Walking Dead. I also needed a gateway recipe to help myself stop stealing my kids’ Halloween candy. Get the recipe from Muffin Topless. 

Cinnabon Protein Oatmeal
cinnabon

You don’t even need a recipe for this breakfast treat. And it’s crazy good. Instead of adding whey protein to my oatmeal, I whipped egg whites into my oats along with a little cinnamon and vanilla.

The magic comes in the topping. Use a tablespoon of Greek yogurt cream cheese or lowfat cream cheese.  Add a half scoop to a full scoop of protein powder depending on how much of a boost you’d like. Thin it out to a thin frosting by adding a little milk, bit by bit.

So good. Not funky. Much yum. Get my recipe here. 

Strawberry Fluff

So fluffy.

So fluffy.

This is the bro-iest bro treat to ever bro. I avoided it because it didn’t sound very yummy to me. But I finally caved and I’ll make this over and over again. Because it’s tasty.  But mostly because: holy mother of God, it’s filling. If you’re having a hangry kind of day, make fluff. It’ll fill your belly. 

You only need fruit, protein powder, some kind of milk, and perhaps a little extract and stevia.  Plus something to help whip it up. Most people use xantham gum. I used an egg white. Yeah, it’s raw. I probably won’t die. 

Get my recipe here

I have two questions for you, because I’m a curious cat. First. What’s your favorite brand/flavor/type of protein powder? And what’s your favorite way to use it? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page. Thanks!

P.S. I share ideas for workouts and nutrition in my newsletter. I’ll help you build muscle, get lean, and feel mighty fine. Just fill out the form thingy below and I’ll hook you up with my Fat Loss on a Budget book. See you there!

 

Just tell me what to eat. (No! Ok, maybe.)

alicememe

That’s what some clients and friends implore me to do. They ask me to tell them exactly what to eat in order to kick ass at getting lean, building muscle, or just becoming healthier for taking life by the horns. 

My preachiness was cringeworthy in retrospect. I’d put on my Mike Brady voice and lecture them about why I didn’t write meal plans. If you’re too young to remember Mr. Brady, then I’ll pinch your cheeks, youngster, and school you. 

No Cindy, let me break it down fo you.

No Cindy, let me break it down fo’ you.

Mr. Brady, the patriarch of the Brady Bunch, patiently doled out life lessons to his brood before telling them to skidaddle. He always had a neat and tidy answer at the ready. 

Just like Mike, I tsk-tsked. There are better alternatives to handing out a meal plan. 

That’s because very strict meal plans – you know, the ones that tell you exactly what to eat for every meal, don’t work for the long term. 

  • Meal plans don’t teach us why choosing certain foods help us meet our goals successfully. 
  • They tend to fall apart the first time that something unexpected happens. We have an event. Or we run out of an ingredient but it’s 6 p.m. and we’re hangry.
  • Nobody is going to use a meal plan forever; so why not start by building skills that will teach you how to eat well for life?

Let me teach you, I say. I don’t think I sound like Mr. Brady, but who knows? Alice was an empathetic listener. I needed to channel her instead. 

cindybrady

Wut?

Yeah some people look at me like Cindy.  When I see that look or sense that feeling in someone’s words, I know we need a new starting place. 

That’s because I’ll always show you the ropes. But learning to climb dem ropes will take a whole lot of new skills.

  • Learning the nutrition basics – macronutrients, micronutrients, etc. 
  • Counting calories. Not forever, but until you learn what’s in your food.
  • Learning to manage your emotional relationship with food.
  • Managing hunger.
  • Learning what kinds of foods best meet your goals.
  • Menu planning.
  • Changing what kinds of foods you choose at the grocery store.
  • Figuring out new ways to cook.
  • Understanding what a healthy meal looks like.
  • Incorporating treats so you don’t binge.


Damn, Cindy, I get it.

That’s a lot. And I’m not even done telling you what you’ll learn along the way to building the skills that will keep your body and mind happier and healthier. 

So is there a middle ground we can find?
Some people can hop right in and get going with doing all the things at once. If this isn’t your first rodeo in the nutrition game, most likely you just need to do some fine tuning.

But it’s a lot different if all of those things I rattled off are brand new. I get you. 

What vegans showed me about taking on new things.

photo credit: someecards

photo credit: someecards

I remember how exasperating it was to learn how to cook and eat like a vegan last summer. You see, I wanted to better understand clients who might not be on #teamchicken like I am. I came away with two giant realizations.

1. Vegan cooks share some surprisingly tasty recipes. It was good to shake things up and get new ideas. #teamlentiltoo

2. I now get why jumping into the deep end of lifestyle change can be so overwhelming. 

Yes, I can better empathize with trying to make sweeping changes in one swoop. I needed training wheels. 

If the thought of having to figure out everything at once makes you break out into a sweat, chill out. Instead, choose one thing that you think is both totally doable and will make a meaningful difference to how you feel. 

Eat mostly junk? Stop bringing it into the house. And throw some apples into your shopping cart. 

Working out sporadically? Make a schedule you know you can keep. 

Too busy to cook? Choose some stupidly simple meals that are more like “throwing together things on a plate” than actually cooking.

But what if you still want me to just tell you what to eat?
Here’s one way I help clients who need more guidance. You can do it too:

1. First you need to understand what a daily meal should look like most of the time. My recommendations vary based on your goals, but nearly everyone should have a plate that has mostly non-starchy veggies, a portion of protein, and a small amount of fat. Meals surrounding workouts benefit from having some starchy carb too. 

2. Start making lists of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, starches, and fats that you actually enjoy eating. Begin with the basics: zucchini, broccoli, spinach for vegetables; chicken, pork, dairy for lean protein examples. Here’s a cheat sheet. 

bestcheatsheet

3. Refine your list. What specific recipes or meals do you have that would fill in the blanks for those categories? Instead of “dairy”, write down “Greek yogurt” or “string cheese”. 

4. You’re almost there. Before you create your own plan, keep a few points in mind: 

1. Are your meals really simple to prepare? They should be at first. You have time down the road to go full Martha Stewart.

2. Are your meals varied enough that you’re getting a fairly wide source of nutrients? I.E., your protein source shouldn’t be always the exact same thing.

That’s because your body needs to get different kinds of vitamins and minerals from that variety of foods. Also if you keep eating chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may turn into one. And you’ll be bored to death too. 

But what shapes up is a meal plan. One that puts your own needs into play and also begins to build your skills to a new and healthier lifestyle. 

Mike Brady yourself while you work off a menu.

Try tracking your calories and pay attention to what kinds of nutrients are in your meals.
Pay attention to how hungry you were before, during, and after meals.
Slow down as you eat. Do you want the whole plate of food? If not, set it aside.

I ask my online coaching clients to track  their calories at first. Not so it becomes a ball and chain. But because it shows you how your days shake out. You’ll often be surprised at what foods are calorie dense and which fill your belly for next to nothing. 

While I don’t write up detailed meal plans and demand that people follow them, I’m happy to show them some of my own logs. Here’s one to teach you with. I’m not using my Mike Brady voice at all, by the way: 

sample-day

You can see how I had plenty of protein at every meal. You’ll notice that I ate mostly whole foods, with a bit of chocolate included for life happiness. If you look at my lunch, you will see that I too am a bro who loves Chipotle. But ordering two times the chicken and skipping the rice goes a long way toward meeting my daily protein goal. I don’t usually get 150g of protein, but this day was great. 

Not every day will perfect. But you’ll see trends, as I did when I noticed I was insanely hungry at 11 a.m. if I ate too few calories at my morning meal. Or how cookie lunch made me feel blah by 3 pm. (It was glorious at the time, however.)

Looking back at the day’s log can be illuminating. Building awareness of how our bodies respond to how we fill them with food goes a long way toward a whole new healthy lifestyle and achieving your fitness goals. 

And when that happens, you’ll be ready. Ready for whatever unexpected situations come at you, like a football to Marcia Brady’s nose, the next office party, or just eating in a way that makes you feel good, function well, and enjoy your meals for life. 

Oh, my nose!

Oh, my nose!

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Staying healthy with hotel living – how to stay on track.

hotelroomEver feel like you’re in that weird place that isn’t quite vacation but still manages to launch you completely out of your comfortable routine?

I think we’ve all been there at least once. Having babies, starting new jobs, moving to new cities, getting married, getting divorced.

It doesn’t really matter what it is: it’s not easy to figure out a new normal. But possibly the most frustrating situation for those who want to keep up healthy habits is being away from our cozy, predictable nests. 

home

It might be because we’re on an extended business trip, or we’re moving, like my friend Lexy is doing right now.

She’s a badass working mom who is getting ready to move into a new house. That’s all good stuff except while they’re waiting for their new home to be ready they have to camp out in one of those long-term business hotels. The ones with only a microwave, a mini range, and a fridge.

Her kids love the pool but other than that, it’s a heck of a stressful situation. Have you ever found yourself in a similar place – one where all of your normal routines felt like they’d been blown to bits?

I had an online coaching client whose kitchen burned to ashes. She had to deal with a major kitchen fire and had to figure out how to feed herself and her family for several weeks. Yeesh. 

Life is messy, isn’t it? Lexy asked me if I had ideas for how to make healthier choices while living in her situation. The good news is that there are things that she can do to feel like she’s taking care of her health; things that work for anyone who might be traveling a lot, going through a new job transition with little time to cook, or just having big stuff going on in their lives.

Remember this above all else…
If you’re nodding your head right now, you need to know one big thing. Here it is:

You don’t need to do everything just like you were when you were in your normal routine.

That’s a nearly impossible task, and it sets you up to feel defeated. It’s okay to loosen up your expectations for a time.

steinbeck

Perfect is the enemy of good; it’s so common for people to say “screw it” and just completely abandon eating well and working out because they aren’t able to do what they think they should. So first and foremost, give yourself permission to let go of what your perfect “healthy” routine looks like at home. 

Phew. Feels good, yeah?

Next. Let’s brainstorm some solutions.

Eating Well 
Lexy felt frustrated because of how often they were eating out. I asked Lexy what she thought was going well and she had already come up with some magnificent strategies:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies to keep in the fridge.
  • Family picnics in the park
  • Getting lean protein via deli meats
  • Choosing portable and easy to store fruits and veggies like carrots, celery, grapes, bananas and clementines
  • Chilling out about using some Lunchables for school lunches but choosing the kind with no extra cookies/candy
  • Pre-diced chicken
  • Microwavable veggie/pasta combos
Hell yeah, Barbie Dream Kitchen. The antiquated, politically inappropriate favorite toy of my childhood.

Hell yeah, Barbie Dream Kitchen. The antiquated, politically incorrect yet favorite toy of my childhood.

Lexy mentioned that making salads frustrated her in such a small space, and I don’t blame her. There’s usually an odd assortment of utensils, fewer available bowls, and in short, makes for the opposite of my Barbie dream kitchen. 

Simplicity is your new best friend.
My biggest bit of advice for eating while out of your routine is to do whatever is simple and still healthy. Pick the things that help you meet your goals yet don’t stress you out too much to prepare. And for the love of all that is holy, stay the hell off Pinterest. You’ll just torture yourself. 

Your #1 goal is to make your life as simple as possible. The fancy stuff can wait. 

peepszap

Embrace new ways of cooking:
You might not be able to grill a steak, but you can do a surprisingly large number of things in a microwave besides nuke those bags of vegetables:

1.Boil water(duh)
2. Scramble and even poach eggs
3. Zap a protein mug cake (they’re not great but passable)
4. Cook whole grains like oats, quinoa, farro
5. Steam fish like salmon 
6. Blow up Peeps. (This is a requirement at least once in your life. Clean it up though.)

chicken

Other ideas for “no-cook” meals:

  • Buy rotisserie chicken and a pre-packaged salad kit. Instead of having to chop veggies, you’ll just throw it all together.
  • Tuna + those little guacamole packets = magic. Actually anything + those little guac packets are wonderful. 
  • Use that microwave – but in steps. Nuke some sweet potatoes. Heat up a can of black beans and/or diced protein. Add salsa. Fill your belly. This works with regular old potatoes too and whatever microwaveable veggies you have. Add whatever fixings are easy to use – a little cheese is great.
  • Take advantage of pre-chopped veggies in the supermarket. It stinks to have to chop up things in a tiny space, and if this makes you more likely to actually eat some more vegetables and skip eating fast food, do it.
  • Keep portable and no-prep munchies around. Aside from fruits and veggies, I’ve found it pretty easy to nab Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese and jerky for quick snacks.
  • Oats are easy. For breakfast, oatmeal is easily microwaveable and even comes in disposable containers now if you’re traveling and have no bowls.
  • If your hotel offers a free breakfast, bulk up! Grab a piece of fruit for later. Choose yogurt, hardboiled eggs, and oatmeal over choices like pastries and cereal. 
  • Allow yourself some “pretty good” choices. These might not be your favorite go-to solutions. I don’t love daily protein bars and bottled protein shakes, but this might be a perfect time to keep some available.

Flipping your mindset.
I think the big thing here is to maintain a sense of order. Make a plan ahead of time, just as if you were cooking at home. Is Monday cold cuts night and perhaps Tuesday rotisserie chicken night? Write it down or save it in a file. 

Take more choices out of your life and it becomes easier to choose wisely.

Lexy also shared that she didn’t much she found foods creeping into their hotel room that she never had around at home. Again, loosening our expectations a bit is probably wise for our mental health, and yet it’s easy to see a transition time as vacation.

But if that vacation is 4-8 weeks long, we might begin feeling not so great about what we’re putting into our bodies on a regular basis. Lexy was wise to attempt to curb the creep here.

It’s not vacation. It’s your life – your real life, just in a slightly different spot than where you’re normally at. Vacation mentality won’t necessarily make you feel less out of sorts; it might erode your peace of mind as well as those routines that keep your body and mind humming.

Photo Credit: Minitime

Photo Credit: Minitime

Working out when life is nuts.
Again, doing fitness if you’ve just moved to a new place or are going through a crazy period can feel rough. Don’t have a gym? No biggie. If you’re talking about 3-4 weeks of upheaval, take a deep breath. You won’t lose all your progress.

But I encourage you to do SOMETHING. Every small, positive action reinforces more positive actions that help you care for yourself. Exercise is a huge stress reliever, and if you’re in the weeds, taking 20 minutes to do a very basic workout will go far in helping you feel good. If your hotel has a gym, that’s fantastic, but there are plenty of body weight routines that you could do just about anywhere. Investing in a suspension trainer like a TRX is another wise idea if you’re a frequent traveler.

But really, don’t sweat the details too much. Go for a walk. Just move your body, because it will make you feel like you’re on track. And that thought will piggyback into you doing more things to put yourself on track. 

Here’s a “do anywhere” quick set that will keep you strong and centered: 

Motel Muscle
Instructions: Complete 5 rounds of the following moves, resting when you need to, preferably at the bottom of a set. 

Circuit:
1.5 Bulgarian split squat – 8 reps/leg (all the way down, half way up, down, then all the way back up for one rep.)
Pushups – 8 (add a pause at the bottom if they’re easy for you)
Lateral lunge – 8/side
Russian twists – 8/side

Living in limbo is a weird place. Whether it’s for a week-long business trip or a month-long stop on the way to somewhere else you’d rather be, it’s maybe not what you expected, but you can absolutely still do things that not only help you be healthier but make you feel a little more at home. 

Do you have strategies that have worked well for your own crazy weeks (or months!)? Leave a comment below and share! 

10 delicious ways to give your meals a healthy makeover.

healthy

Think eating healthier means saying sayonara to your favorite flavors? It really doesn’t have to feel like a drag to eat well. Let’s talk about how to make it easier (and yummier) today.

As I changed the way that I eat to lose weight and maintain better overall nutrition, my day-to-day choices began to look much different than they had in the past. It’s not that I never allow myself to have super rich, cheesy, decadent things: but they’re more the exception than the rule. When I do, I enjoy the hell out of them and then get back to the regular scheduled programming.

But I’ve also found myself doing things that I never used to do – making completely painless tweaks to my meals that don’t diminish them at all. In fact, I think many of the changes make for even tastier dishes. Here are 10 biggies to try:

#1. Lighten up on cooking oil.
Even though fat isn’t the enemy, using a lot of it to cook our meals can pack on a bunch of extra calories. So it’s wise to scale back.

I’ve begun using nonstick sprays quite a bit more the last few years. Don’t go crazy spraying your pan – unlike what the label tells you, nonstick sprays aren’t calorie free. Who actually sprays for a quarter of a second? But it’s still a viable tool. Either with a nonstick spray or with a thin veneer of your favorite oil, scale back on how much added fat you use for sauteeing.

I see so many recipes that use a few tablespoons of oil to just help veggies not stick to the pan. I’d rather use that oil in something that I can actually enjoy. A nonstick pan with a little spray can easily shave off significant numbers of calories without us missing any flavor. My caveat to this is that sometimes a sauce actually needs a little fat in it to round out the taste of the dish: I’d rather save that for a small amount of butter added to the end rather than making my food not stick.

#2. Greek yogurt instead of mayo or sour cream.
Yogurt in tuna salad. Yogurt on a potato. Yogurt in your chili. Yogurt on yogurt. It’s high in protein, low in calories, and serves as a perfect stand in for heavier condiments as well as making your morning breakfast bowl more wonderful.

#3. Cereal vs. granola for sprinkling.
This one pains me, because I love the flavor and texture of granola. And it might surprise you to see this one listed. After all, granola has a rep for being wholesome and virtuous. Sure, it has some whole grains and nuts. But it’s also crazy high in calories and has bunch of extra sugar and fat that I’d rather not spend on such a tiny amount of food. Granola is usually a topper for my yogurt. I began switching it out for a little cereal, because the main reason I like it in yogurt is for the crunch.

When I do have it, it’s just a few tablespoons – definitely not an entire bowl. I’ve found a few exceptions – Mamma Chia granola is relatively low on calories and high in nutritional value. I found some at Target recently. It’s definitely not as sweet or decadent as most granola I’ve had, but it’s satisfying.

Grilled bok choy and plums with pork chops is mind blowing and amps up your nutrition too. Nom nom.

Grilled bok choy and plums with pork chops is mind blowing and amps up your nutrition too. Nom nom.

#4. Flip flop your veggie to starch ratios.
A good rule to follow when putting together a dinner plate is to cover half of it with veggies, include a portion of lean protein, a small portion of starchy carbs, and a wee bit of fat.

That’s a great rule: except that becomes tricky to do with many recipes, especially soups, stews, and casseroles. An easy way to make your meal look more like what I described is to just double the amount of veggies in the recipe and halve the amount of starch (especially if the recipe includes a lot of it). 

This makes for a meal where you still get to enjoy your family’s favorite “epic pasta meal” but can usually make it a little less calorie dense. You’ll squeeze in more nutrient-packed vegetables this way too. Win/win. 

Gonna marry this.

Gonna marry this. 

#5. PB2 vs peanut butter.
PB2 was a slowly-burning love affair for me. This is the most popular brand of what’s essentially dehydrated peanut butter. At first I just added it to smoothies. Then to Greek yogurt. Those were my gateways into full PB2 obsession. Now I rehydrate it with a little water and add it to oatmeal, pancakes, or just eat it like peanut butter: with an apple, celery, or on a spoon. It’s so much lower in calories than peanut butter and it’s shockingly good.

#6. Lemon and a drizzle of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil vs. packaged dressing.
I end up using less dressing this way and my salads actually taste fresher. Try it! Sherry and balsamic vinegars are intensely flavored and make another good sub for lemon. I end up needing very little additional oil. Just enough to help absorb those nutrients in the greens.

#7. Fresh fruit instead of dried in pretty much everything. 
Ugh, I love raisins and dried cherries. But I can get so much fuller from using fresh fruit on way, way fewer calories. Dried fruit is calorically dense, often contains added sugar, and makes me sad when I measure out the tiny 2 TBSP serving. I use it sparingly or as a treat. Most of the time, I’m team #freshfruit.

#8. Bulk up a casserole with plant-based protein.
Mushrooms are extremely low in calories, boost a bit of protein and minerals, and have a meaty texture that plays well as either a stand-in or addition to meat in many meals. They’re also usually easy to find at a low price.

Now that my 3 boys eat enough food to feed a small army, bulking up our casseroles with foods like beans, chickpeas, and mushrooms not only gives them a more diverse source of nutrients in their diet; it also sometimes shaves off calories and saves us money. I don’t mind going totally meatless some days – my kids prefer me adding at least some meat to the dish, so I just do half meat/half plant stuff.

photo credit: the belle vie blog. The autumn turkey burger is kickass, by the way.

photo credit: the belle vie blog. The autumn turkey burger is kickass, by the way.

#9. Turkey brats/Italian sausages/ground turkey or chicken instead of ground pork.
I feel like a traitor, because I’m from Iowa, the pork capitol of the world. I really don’t feel like turkey or chicken is a sacrifice in most of these forms; there are so many insanely yummy sausages out there now too. Turkey and chicken varieties contain less fat and protein than their porky counterparts. My only exception is bacon. Turkey bacon is barely better for you than pork and pork bacon is just too good to swap. Come at me, turkey bacon. 

#10. Smaller corn tortillas or burrito bowls vs. white flour tortillas.
Tacos are life. It’s also Tuesday, so I thought I’d wrap this up with a taco tip. Those tortillas we use to wrap up our yummy fillings can really pack on a ton of not-all-that nutritious calories. Corn torillas are flavorful, smaller, and help control portions.

Sometimes I skip them completely and just serve my filling on top of greens, which shaves off calories and helps me get more servings of veggies into my day. This is one example of a thing I don’t really miss all that much.

Do you have any swaps you use? Share them, pretty please? I’m always up for new cooking hacks. Do me a favor and leave one on my Facebook pageLet’s start a conversation about it. Have a great day!

 

I share my best strategies for using nutrition and fitness to torch fat, get strong, and feel like a million bucks. You can get in on more conversations by signing up for my free newsletter. I’ll send Fat Loss on a Budget right into your inbox right away. Sign up on the form thingy below.

 

 

How and Why to Choose a Protein Powder

The importance of getting more protein in our diet seems to have hit the mainstream hard this year: has anyone else noticed the explosion of protein-enhanced products on supermarket shelves this year? Some of them make me cringe a bit. Just like it’s a better choice for you to eat an apple instead of a Fiber One bar if you’re trying to increase your fiber intake, I’d much rather people get their protein from whole food sources like lean meats, eggs, dairy, and legumes than cereal labeled “Protein Fruity-O’s!”

Why? Those things aren’t inherently evil, but they contain a bunch of other ingredients that you probably don’t need. The apple has vitamins and minerals and lacks some funky additives that your body might not actually digest all that well from that fiber bar (like chicory root, for example. It does a number on my stomach.) 

The American recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is actually fairly low. But keep in mind that those guidelines are to maintain a baseline of overall health. If you want to maximize your potential for things like burning fat, building muscle, and enhancing your performance, you’ll need to eat more than that. I won’t delve into the intricacies of how much you should eat for today, though aiming for daily grams that equal roughly your target body weight is a good start.

Instead, I want to talk about what most of my clients face when they begin to increase their protein intake: it’s pretty tricky at first. Over time, you learn to choose meals that are naturally higher in protein to meet your goal. But often, many of us are either too busy to prepare all of our meals and snacks at home or we just want to change things up.

As it turns out, protein powders are one of the few added supplements that are an excellent boost to your intake. I don’t really think of them as a supplement so much as a highly concentrated food. For example, the whey in your dairy products gets filtered out and micronized into powder form to be used in whey protein powders. But when you go to your local vitamin shop, supermarket, or look online, the varieties available can feel incredibly overwhelming.

proteinpowders

Not only are there countless brands to choose from; there are all sorts of proteins available; whey, egg white, casein; plant based solutions like hemp, rice, and pea powders; grass-fed beef and even cricket. Yeah, for real, cricket. (I can’t quite get past the idea of the last one but hey, to each her own.)

So what kind of protein supplement should I choose?
My short answer is the one that you can afford that also tastes good to you and aligns with your overall nutrition needs. If you’re a vegan, my recommendation to try an animal-based protein isn’t going to do much for you.

My long answer is that if you want to really get into the nitty gritty of how the body uses protein, we have to understand the idea of bio-availability. That just means that your body can use more or less of the protein in different kinds of foods. Dairy and egg based protein sources are the most highly bio-available of any protein source; soy protein is also quite high; other plant-based sources are often lower.

photo credit: critical bench

photo credit: critical bench

But does that mean we should do nothing but guzzle milkshakes? Nope nope nope. The amino acids that protein sources contain are important – they’re the building blocks for everything that your body does. But food also contains a host of other nutrients that your body needs, so slurping nothing but smoothies might be delicious but you’d miss out on quite a few other vitamins and minerals. I’m pretty sure it would get boring really quickly, too. So keep in mind that your supplement should probably only serve as one snack or meal out of your day. Put in the context of your overall diet, the type of protein powder you choose probably matters less than we think .

But whey is still my first pick… here’s why:
Aside from whey having a very high bio-availability score, in the sea of protein powders, you can find high quality whey protein inexpensively. I look for protein supplements that don’t contain a ton of extra fillers and ingredients that add fat and calories. If I want extra calories, I would rather add them back in with tasty whole foods. You’ll find whey protein concentrate, isolate, and hydrolyzed isolate in the whey protein market.

gainz

gainz

All whey powders go through a filtering process that removes most of the carb, fat, and lactose from unprocessed whey. Both concentrates and isolates are high in their protein content, though isolate is higher. Concentrate has more lactose, so if dairy makes your belly hurt, you might choose an isolate. Hydrolyzed isolates further break down the isolate through processing and are easier to digest. Personally, I don’t like the taste of the hydrolyzed isolates I’ve tasted. They’re also more expensive than other forms of whey protein.

anabolicmeme

Whatever form you choose of whey, your body quickly digests it, making it a good source of post-workout protein. The idea of an “anabolic window”, i.e., of having only a short time to take advantage to muscle-repairing protein, has been reconsidered. You can chill out and don’t need to choose a particular form of supplement purely based on rate of absorption.

Getting some recovery fuel into your body within an hour or so after your workout will aid your gainz and help you feel better. The only people who really need to examine nutrient timing more closely are athletes – endurance athletes in particular need to make sure they’re fueling their work with sufficient nutrition. 

sciencepepsi

I’m intrigued as well by a recent study shared at the April meeting of the Endocrine Society too: researchers found that obese subjects with Type 2 diabetes felt much fuller after a breakfast containing whey protein than other high-protein breakfasts. They also experienced fewer spikes in their glucose levels thoughout the day. Of course this is just one study and its worth will emerge more in the context of more studies. But it’s one that I’m keeping my eye on 1

For those with dairy allergy, an egg white protein powder would be my first pick. It has a high score for bio-availability and is a “complete protein”, meaning it contains all the amino acids your body needs to function well. It may sound funky, but I’ve sampled several and they don’t taste eggy at all. Vegans might take a look at supplements containing pea protein, which is easily digested and contains several, though not all of the amino acids your body needs. It digests more slowly than whey protein, but like slow digesting casein, this might be a bonus for staying full longer.  Hemp protein contains a good dose of fiber and is also easily digested. All in all, if you’re shying away from animal-based protein supplements, a vegan supplement with a blend of plant-based protein might be your best bet to try.

Brands
Some companies have been caught spiking their supplements with non-protein sources to increase the overall nitrogen content of the powder. When tested, they appear to contain more protein than they actually do, because carbs and fats, unlike protein, don’t contain nitrogen. If you’re eating a well balanced diet, this isn’t a make or break scenario. However, as a business practice I think it stinks. So before you heavily invest in a brand, spend a few minutes on Google to learn a bit about the reputation of the company.

Everyone’s budget and tastes are unique; I’ve read glowing reviews of certain powders only to find that I could barely stand ingesting them. When you can, start with a sample or the smallest size available. I’ve consistently had good luck with companies like True Nutrition, Optimum Nutrition, and Cellucor. For vegan protein powders, I loathed many of them but found that Vega Sport tastes excellent, to me at least.

Some people prefer unsweetened protein powders for their versatility and lack of artificial sweeteners. Sometimes I just want to mix powder with water and ice and go, so flavored protein is a bonus in my book. Vanilla is versatile, works in lots of different recipes, and is often less cloying than other varieties. I also try to choose brands that use stevia as a sweetener because it tastes less fake and funky to me.

How to Eat/Drink Protein Powders

I’ve had a few that tasted great enough by themselves to just shake up in a blender bottle with some water, add ice, and go. If you have to bring one to work and want to minimize extra calories, this is, of course, a fine option. However, if you have a bit of extra time, making a smoothie with some kind of milk, fruit, and vegetables is an easy way to amp up both flavor and nutrient content.

I’ve also used protein powder in place of part of my flour in pancake recipes. This works surprisingly well as long as I don’t make the powder ratio too high. Mug cakes have historically ranged from cake disappointments to epic disasters. A half scoop melts seamlessly into my overnight oats, and a small amount added to Greek yogurt along with a bit of fruit is surprisingly tasty. If I throw that concoction into the freezer for 15 minutes I can almost convince myself it is ice cream. Except not completely, because I’m no chump. Have a small bowl of ice cream if you really want some, but it makes a very yummy and healthy snack.

In general, I avoid using protein powders to make a lot of healthified “Frankendesserts” and instead just enjoy it for what it is: an easy, inexpensive, and tasty way to boost my protein intake when I need it. Here are two summer smoothie recipes I made this week. The calorie and macro profiles will change a bit depending on the type and brand of supplement you use, but you’ll have a basic idea.

strawberrysmoothie

Strawberry Cheesecake Protein Smoothie
Serves 1

Note: I made this for breakfast, and it makes a gigantic shake. Halve the recipe for a snack if it’s too much food for you.

Ingredients:
½ cup strawberries, fresh or frozen
¾ cup vanilla cashew milk (or milk of your choice. It’s what I had on hand.)
½ cup 1% cottage cheese
2 Tbsp Greek yogurt cream cheese spread (I use Green Mountain. Lowfat cream cheese would work too.)
1 scoop strawberry or vanilla protein powder (I had a sample of Quest strawberry whey-casein blend, which whips up like crazy from the casein. Vanilla is just as good here.)
5-6 ice cubes
½ graham cracker sheet
Optional: grated lemon zest and a packet of stevia. My berries were ripe and my protein was sweet, so I skipped the extra sweetener. The zest is optional but adds a nice something something to this shake.)

Directions:
Whirl everything except for the cracker in a blender. Top your smoothie with a crumbled cracker, and marvel at how cheesecakey it actually is.  

Nutrition:
Calories: 314|Protein: 40g|Fat: 6g|Carbs: 28g|Fiber: 3g|Sugars: 18g

Full disclosure- this photo was from a kale smoothie, but all green smoothies look pretty much the same!

Full disclosure- this photo was from a kale smoothie, but all green smoothies look pretty much the same!

Big Green Smoothie
Serves 1
Note: adding spinach or kale to protein shakes is a very quick way to get more leafy greens into your diet. Coupled with fruit and flavored protein powder, you won’t taste the “green stuff”. I swap out fruits in this smoothie, but usually leave in some banana – it adds extra sweetness. Use frozen fruit to make this shake thicker and creamier. 

Ingredients:

1/2 frozen, medium banana, preferably frozen
1/2 cup strawberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup spinach
1 packet stevia
1/2 Tbsp chia seeds (for healthy fats)
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 scoop of  vanilla protein powder (I used True Nutrition vanilla whey isolate)
5-6 ice cubes if not using frozen fruit

Instructions:
Blend it all up, and enjoy!

Nutrition:
Calories: 296|Protein: 36g|Fat: 6g|Carbs: 29g|Fiber: 7g|Sugars: 14g

I hope this demystified choosing some powda for you. If you already use a protein supplement, what are your favorites and how do you use them? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear your ideas. 

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Notes:

  1. The Endocrine Society. “Large whey protein breakfast may help manage type 2 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2016.

Leaner, stronger, faster – stop majoring in the minors to start making big progress.

photo credit: Central Bike Thai

photo credit: Central Bike Thai

Do you ever major in the minors? Spending too much energy on small details while neglecting the “big rocks” may not only waste your time and energy – it can prevent you from reaching your goals effectively. I also must admit that I’ve done this more times than I’d care to remember. I suppose it’s partly because I’m someone who wants to go all in once I commit to a new goal. I’ve often read every detail, absorbed way too much information, and basically got in my own way.

I did exactly that last year, when I decided to sign up for my powerlifting meet. By nature, I’m not a dabbler: once I decide I’m in, I’m all in, baby. I took mental notes at my powerlifting-focused gym, where veteran, record-winning lifters worked out. I read every damn article I could find on the intarwebz. I hired Jordan Syatt, a top notch powerlifting coach.

He gave me my program, and I followed it. I improved my strength and technique. But still, I spent an inordinate amount of time on things like researching the pros and cons of grip widths, knee sleeves, water cutting strategies for meets, and training schemes. I was, of course, excited about my sexy new sport. But when I asked Jordan if I needed squat shoes for my upcoming meet, he just said this:

“Stop worrying about that stuff and just get strong.”

ermagerd, sherz

He was right. That sucked a little, because I love any form of new footwear. There is a time to consider squat shoes, if we need them. If you dedicate yourself to a new sport or really any health pursuit for long enough, you may reach a point where delving in deeper and refining your approach will benefit you. But like I did, you may be spinning your wheels fixated on minor nuances of your training or nutrition that will make almost no difference in your outcomes if you haven’t first built a firm foundation.

I can recall some instances where friends and clients have got caught in a similar trap with training and nutrition:

  • Buying a $5000 bicycle and aerodynamic wheels that set back their retirement savings yet haven’t dedicated themselves to a consistent, well planned training program for gaining speed. I’d like to thank these guys, however, because I like to make a game out of passing dudes on fancy bikes with aerobars while riding my old steel Bianchi with big, non-aero accessories hanging from it. Am I immature? Probably.
  • Obsessing over losing a few percentage points of body fat to become faster in endurance sports yet haven’t spent any time building muscle to help power their bodies.
  • Worrying about complicated periodization schemes when you learned how to deadlift last month.
  • Investing heavily in a new superfood juice, vitamin supplement, or special powder harvested with the same technique used by ancient Mayans yet haven’t nailed down the basics of eating mostly whole foods in your day.
  • Toying with advanced nutrition strategies like intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, and rapid fat loss protocols when you haven’t yet figured out how to consistently eat in a way to create a calorie deficit.
  • Researching the ins and outs of nutrient timing but you’re currently not on top of your calories, macronutrient targets, or eating nourishing foods on a regular basis.

These are just a few examples of times when we over complicate things and fixate on the trees instead of the forest. Sometimes it’s because we are excited and want to belong to the tribe. Plus, squat shoes look kind of bad-ass. We read headlines that tout the benefits of a new supplement or training strategy.

But most of the time, getting faster, stronger, and leaner is a lot simpler than we think. What we typically need more of at first is patience, time, consistency, planning, as well as willingness to dig in and do some hard work.

bigrock

So here’s to keeping things simple. Peek at these lists of the major players before you plunge into the fine details.

If you’re a strength athlete:

  • Have you followed a well-constructed training plan for a solid block of time? I’m not talking weeks – I’m talking months of consistent hard work with a plan to see the fruits of your labor.

If you’re an endurance athlete: 

  • Do you include a progressive strength and power training scheme in your yearly sport planning?
  • Are you eating nutrient dense foods for overall performance and health?
  • Do you appropriately fuel your workouts and understand the roles of protein, carbs, and fats in health and your sport?
  • Do you include workouts for endurance, tempo, and power?
  • Have you spent time building your base, and do you know how and when to plan these workouts in the scope of a training year? If not, the aerobars will not help you enough. Hire a performance coach or get mentoring from more experienced athletes in your sport.  

If you’re losing fat:

  • Have you tracked your calories if you notice that you can’t lose weight?
  • Do you weigh your food to see exactly what you’re taking in?
  • How well honed is your understanding of appropriate portions for your body’s needs, and what kinds of foods will keep you full, fueled, and in a calorie deficit?
  • Do you know how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet?
  • Are you getting adequate protein into your days?

If you want to begin lead a generally healthier life: 

  • Are you exercising regularly most days of the week?
  • Do you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains? If so, high five. If not, start working on these habits instead of worrying about minor supplementation or optimal workout designs.

There is a place for using high-level tactics in your training and nutrition. If you’ve put in the time in your sport and want to squeeze out even more improvement, small tweaks to your training, nutrition, and gear can absolutely help you. If you’re already very lean and want to achieve advanced aesthetic goals, you probably need to investigate some advanced strategies for accomplishing your goals.

Just make sure you haven’t skipped over the steps that make the biggest difference for improving your efforts. Work hard, be smart, and keep things as simple as possible.

Can you booze without busting your fitness goals?

photo credit: TowerGirl, flickr

photo credit: TowerGirl, flickr

My girlfriends and I have been not-so-patiently waiting for summer pool and patio weather. Now it’s here. Sweet! A patio night usually includes a few snacks and drinks for us. But if you’re also trying to take care of your gym performance, your body composition, and your overall health, you may be wondering how many, if any adult beverages you can get away with without negative effects.

 
I’m talking more than hangovers – I’m thinking about how our bodies function, how it impacts our metabolism, and more. But before you start wondering if I’m a fun hater, let me assure you: I love having a few drinks as much as the next person. My bro friends have even converted me into a scotch sipper. I blame my pal Robbie Farlow’s “whiskey drinking for newbies guide for that. 
 
But you want to know what alcohol does to your body, if you need to worry about it, and most importantly, how much and how often you can drink and still be full of healthy awesomeness. Read on:
 
Firstly, understand what alcohol is.
In terms of nutrition, the alcohol in your drink has around 7 calories per gram. But it’s coupled with other ingredients too in whatever drink you’re imbibing. Alcohol may provide energy (biologically speaking) but it doesn’t come with any micronutrients that help our bodies do their jobs. It’s the quintessential “empty calorie” item.
 
What happens when you drink the drank.
When you ingest alcohol, your body prioritizes digesting it before anything else you eat or drink. That’s because it can’t be stored within our bodies. That matters because our bodies aren’t processing those other big deal nutrients: fats, carbs, and proteins. So in effect, that’s temporarily slowing down your metabolism.

You’ll also experience swings in your blood sugar, possibly disrupted sleep, temporarily elevated levels of stress hormones, and dehydration.If you’re lifting the weights and putting them down to build muscle, alcohol gets in the way of that too –it temporarily diminishes the ability to repair and build muscle.

The more we drink, the more likely we are to say “eff it” and eat things that pile on extra calories for the day. 2 a.m. pizza, I’m looking at you. 

And finally, of course, and if you drink way too much, you’ll wake up to a hell of a hangover the next day.

hungover

 
So yeah – I think we can agree on those all being pretty terrible for our bodies. But the good news is that an occasional drink won’t derail your overall health. Just like one giant slice of cake won’t either – it’s what we do repeatedly, consistently, over time that creates our body composition, our performance, and our health.
 
How much, how often, and how to?
There is no single “right” answer, but my own advice is this:
 
  1. If having a drink is a nightly habit, consider cutting back to one day per week. If you’re serious about achieving a fitness goal, making alcohol a very minimal part of your life may make a very positive impact on your progress. 
  2. Limit your drinks to just a few when you go out. You’ll still enjoy your friends, make less of an impact on your fitness goals, and be way less likely to make an ass out of yourself.
  3. Once or twice a year, let loose a bit more. Please be safe if you get “turnt”. Call an Uber. But for the vast majority of your days, scale back and be more like a grandma and less like a college kid. Your body will thank you.
  4. Eat a little food with your boozing. You’ll be less likely to unintentionally end up in the #3 scenario.
  5. Regardless of how much you decide to enjoy, drink 1 glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. You’ll feel better the next day.
When I do drink, what should I choose?
If you’re trying to scale back on calories, clear alcohol with seltzer and a twist of fresh fruit is never a bad idea. A glass of wine isn’t that big of a calorie bomb. I also sometimes sip on plain bourbon or scotch because it doesn’t go down quite so quickly. To cut down on calories, avoid drinks with combinations of several alcohols or lots of added sugar. For your next patio party or other summertime fest, try the plum prosecco smash or strawberry spritzer that my friend Cathy Bormann of Fit Des Moines made with me. Watch our video, where we goof off and make summer drinks and snacks (with recipes)!

What’s the lightened up summer treat you like best? Leave a comment and share!

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