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Top 4 Tips to Fuel Your Run

run nutritionYou’ve recently signed up for a race and have your training mapped out, but have you considered your nutrition?  Whether you are a novice or elite endurance runner, having a nutrition plan can positively impact your training and race day results.  With a few simple nutrition strategies, a properly fueled run can get you to the finish line with sustained energy.  By implementing the following 4 tips into your nutrition plan, you’ll be ahead of the pack feeling energized.
Continue reading “Top 4 Tips to Fuel Your Run”

The Protein Obsession: A Food First Approach

One of my first, and only, pieces of dietary advice in high school basketball was to eat chicken after practice to recover from training.  This made (some) sense, providing protein to recover muscle damage (in a good way) that incurred from training.  Protein is one nutrient needed, along with carbohydrates and some fat, to aid in the recovery from training and exercise.  It’s  specific functions in this process is to attend to muscle synthesis (building muscle) and preventing muscle breakdown.  Protein also has a variety of other really important functions in the body including cell activity (enzymes), organ and tissue maintenance, immune function and nervous system functions.

The athletic and fitness industries are kind of protein obsessed, and I got that first glimpse of it in high school sports.  Working as a trainer, I felt left out that I was not habitually supplementing protein, a practice many people think they absolutely need to gain muscle, strength and/or lose weight.  In our more is better society, of course the idea of more protein is better has entered that mentality.  While I do advocate from a food first approach, depending on your goals activity level and diet, a protein supplement may be useful.  Before diving into an expensive protein powder regime, let’s check out the recommendations and how we can get that from food.

First, how much protein do you need?

That depends on your body, goals and activity level.  With the current RDA for protein set a 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, as active individual, you may benefit from higher protein consumption.  These higher needs can range from 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram per day (1).  These levels can be reached with proper nutrition through whole foods.  For example, an active 135-pound adult may need between 75-120 grams of protein per day.

The timing of protein ingestion can be important for optimal growth and recovery.  In the first two hours after training, it is recommended that an individual consumes 15-25 grams of high quality protein to effectively stimulate the muscle rebuilding mechanism (1).  Continual feeding of approximately 20 grams of protein 3-5 hours apart has been shown to maximally stimulate this muscle building mechanism (2).  There is not sufficient evidence that higher doses (ie 40 grams) has been found to further enhance this mechanism (1, 2).

Here’s a quick food first approach to getting 20 grams of protein:

What equals 20 grams of protein_ (1)

If I do need a supplement, what should I be looking for? 

There are some reasons when a quality protein supplement may be necessary.  Access to protein rich food after training or a workout can be challenging due to time or lack of appetite.  Intense exercise can suppress appetite, and in this case a protein supplement with carbohydrate can be useful to ensure your body gets nutrients and calories to recover effectively.

With so many proteins on the market, making a decision can be overwhelming.  What has found to be most effective are 100% whey protein isolate for individuals who can tolerate whey.  If you prefer a non-dairy supplement, there are a variety of vegan protein supplements that are nearly just as effective as whey isolate.

Since the protein supplement industry is highly unregulated, many NCAA and even FDA banned substances can make their way into their protein supplements.  In a response to this practice, I tend to recommend a supplement that is NSF Certified for Sport (www.nsfsport.com), which is a third-party testing company that tests what is on the label is actually in the bottle.  They also only list supplements that are safe for athletes looking to avoid banned substances.  If you are not an athlete, this is recommended for your health and safety.  Consumer Lab (consumerlab.com) is another third-party company, which requires a membership, that tests and reviews the quality of supplements for safety and efficacy.

It is always best to work with a nutrition profession like a Registered Dietitian to assess and help you plan your nutrient needs.  Remember, protein is just one of the essential nutrients your body needs to perform.  A well-balanced diet will incorporate a combination of foods to reach your needs and reach you goals and determine your appropriate macronutrient needs.

References

(1) Thomas, D. Travis, et al. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 116, no. 3, 2016, pp. 501–528., doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006.

(2) Areta, José L., et al. “Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis.” The Journal of Physiology, vol. 591, no. 9, May 2013, pp. 2319–2331., doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2012.244897.

Recipe: Coconut Almond Butter Energy Balls

Maintaining a busy and physically active life while properly fueling can be difficult to manage, especially in our on-the-go culture.  As a busy bee (who trains like she’s competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics), having prepped whole food snacks is essential to being fed and reaching my goals.  This is where I turn to nut butter energy balls to solve my fueling issues.  Here’s a few reasons why:

  • They are easy to make and take about 10 minutes to prep, mix and roll (with minimal distractions).
  • They typically use up 1 bowl, 2 measuring cups (if you use the 1/4 cup to make 1 cup), 1 tablespoon and 1 container to store them in during the process.
  • They can be thought of as eating dessert when you’re snacking (win, win!).
  • They are easily portable in a small container or ziplock bag.
  • You can switch up the flavorings by using cocoa powder, dried fruit, different nut butters, etc.

To fuel training in between meals, have one with a small banana an hour or two pre strength or endurance training to power your lifts, conditioning or long run.  Post training, mix one or two balls into a yogurt  for a protein and carb rich on the go fueling.

I often make them with my 2 year old nephew and he loves helping out when we make these, eating the chocolate chips instead of putting them in.  Older kids will probably have fun rolling them into balls.  This can be a good opportunity to work on teaching kids about having fun with healthy foods while working on some fine motor skills!

Coconut Almond Butter Energy Balls

Yield: 10-12 balls

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1/3 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice mix
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or sweetener of choice)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (milk or dark-minis are best for this)

Directions

  1. Mix oats, spice, flax and coconut together.
  2. Next, combine almond butter and honey into the dry mixture until completely mixed.
  3. Fold in chocolate chips until evenly spread throughout the batter.
  4. Using a cookie scoop, scoop the batter into wet hands (this will prevent them from getting too sticky).  Roll into a ball shape and place onto a sheet or plate.  Make sure all balls are evenly spaced on the plate, avoid stacking as they may stick in the fridge.
  5. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, then transfer to an air tight container for storage.
  6. Enjoy, and try not to eat them in 2-3 days like I do!  And if you do, that’s OK!

 

 

Recipe: Chickpea Tacos with Quinoa Crunch

As someone who loves tacos, I was looking for a decent vegetarian or vegan taco recipe that’s more than just veggies.  Chickpeas, a great non-meat alternative, were the protein medium I went for in this dish.  Roasted with traditional latin spices, these chickpea tacos get an extra layer of nutrient power from the crunchy spiced quinoa on top.  Sautéed onion, peppers and corn add some veggie and nutrient goodness.  This recipe using a latin spice mixture called Tajín, one of my favorites, that you can find in most supermarkets (even in 7-11!).  Guacamole makes the perfect creamy topping, adding in healthy fats.  Enjoy!

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 red bell pepper, slices
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 1 cup corn kernals
  • 1 tsp Taín
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Olive oil
  • Homemade or store bought guacamole

1. Preheat oven to 400F

2. Prepare spice mix by combing cumin, chipotle, paprika, oregano, garlic and salt.  In a bowl, coat chickpeas with olive oil and a little over half the spice mix.

3. On a roast pan, lay out parchment paper.  Lay chickpeas out flat and place in oven for 15 minutes.

4.  In the same bowl, place the half cup of precooked quinoa and mix with olive oil and remaining spice mixture.  When chickpeas are done, place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes, until quinoa is crispy.  Be careful not to burn.

5.  Heat a medium pan on medium high heat.  Add olive oil and sautéed pepper and onion until soft, about 10 minutes.

6. Using the same pan, add about 1/2 tsp olive oil and sauté the corn kernels with Tajín spice powder (or chili powder, salt and lime if you do not have Tajín).

6. To assemble the taco, briefly warm the tortilla in microwave for 10 seconds.  First place the pepper and onion mixture, followed by the spiced corn.  Top with chickpeas, sprinkle with 1-2 tsp of crunchy quinoa and a generous dollop of guacamole.  Serve with lime wedges.

Recipe: Apple Peanut Butter Muffins

Most muffins we see in the groceries and bakeries are more like a cupcakes.  While absolutely delicious, they may not be best to choice on a daily basis.  I created this recipe to give the sense that I am eating a cake-like muffin, while being full of healthy grains, fruit and yummy peanut butter.  Grating the apples is a must to ensure the moisture of these muffins are on point.  I tried with chopped apples, but it didn’t do the trick.  

Whole grain muffins are an excellent carb source to fuel before and refuel after sport or exercise.   Yes we need carbs!  I eat these muffins as a breakfast mashed into Greek yogurt, on its own as a quick snack on my busy days, or as a yummy dessert drizzled with even more peanut butter (highly recommended).  Having one is difficult, so I usually have two.


Apple Peanut Butter Muffins with Spelt and Almond Flour

Yields 12 muffins

  • 1 ¾ cup spelt flour
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice blend or cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 1 cup shredded sweet apple (I used honeycrisp)
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 425F.  Combine spelt and almond flour, baking soda, salt and spice of choice in a large bowl and combine thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, the eggs and then add in milk, shredded apple, and peanut butter.  Fold wet ingredients with the dry just until all the flour is combines, do not over mix.  Add in the raisins last and fold until evenly distributed.

Scoop batter evenly into a lined muffin tin, filling just below the top of the liner, giving it room to rise.  Place in the 425F oven for 5 mins.  After 5 minutes lower the temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  Remove, allow to cool in the tin and then place on cooling rack.

Carbs: The Basics

“Carbs” have gotten a bad reputation.  With the popularity of low carbohydrate, high fat diets, many feel that carbohydrates are what is holding you back from reaching your body or performance goals.  Many athletes and celebrities have claimed their remarkable performance and bodies on a low carbohydrate diets, but is it right for you?  First, let’s take a look at the basics behind carbohydrates and their function and need during exercise and sport.  

Why You Need Carbs for Training and Exercise

Carbohydrates play an important role during exercise and sport and is the primary fuel source during most activities.  Whether you are going for run, hitting a HIIT class, strength training or sport conditioning, your body is primarily using carbohydrates to fuel your training.   The most utilized form of fuel for our muscles to contract (or move) are carbohydrates in the stored form known as muscle glycogen.  When muscle glycogen runs out, our liver, which also stores glycogen (carbs), helps supply the muscle.  

The brain and central nervous system also rely on carbohydrates during sport and exercise to function optimally.  Low carbohydrate availability, likely from inadequate consumption, can impair performance by impairing concentration, coordination, pacing, fatigue and motor skills.  Not only can this lead to impaired performance, but it can result in injury.       

So, How Much Do I Need?

What you need depends on the frequency, intensity, time and type of training and exercise you engage in.  Therefore individual carbohydrate needs, especially for athletes and physically active individuals, are on a case by case basis.  An endurance trained individual who runs 3 or more times per week will have a higher carbohydrate need than an individual who strength trains 3 or more times per week.  Strength trainers and power athletes also need a significant amount of carbohydrates to train effectively.       

The goal is to consume enough carbohydrates to fuel your training sessions and sustain. A simple method to determine your carbohydrate needs would be to consume 45-50% calories from carbohydrates.  For athletes and active individuals, determining your carbohydrate needs on a gram per kilogram of body weight basis is more appropriate for proper fueling.  The following recommendations from Burke et al (2011), have been accepted as a guide for athletes:

Light Low intensity, skill based 3-5 g/kg body mass
Moderate Moderate exercise (~1 hour per day) 5-7 g/kg body mass
High Endurance exercise (1-3 hours/day moderate or high intensity exercise) 6-10 g/kg body mass

 

For example, a 145 pound adult (~66 kg) engaging in moderate intensity running would need a minimum of 330 grams of carbohydrates.  She can vary her carbohydrates day to day depending on her training load to be higher on more intense days.  Carbohydrate needs can generally be met through regular meals of high carbohydrate foods.  These include rice, bread, potatoes, and pasta.  Pre and post workout carbohydrates may be needed during days where you are unable to meet your needs during regular meals.

For active individuals with lower activity level than athletes may have lower calorie and overall carbohydrate needs.  If weight loss is a goal, it is still important to ensure you have enough carbohydrates to fuel your activities.  Cutting carbohydrates can be counter-intuitive to reaching your training and body composition goals.  

My Personal Experience with Carbs…

I’ve experimented with lower carbohydrate and higher carbohydrate diets to support my exercise.  When I increased my carbohydrate intake from to support my training, I was not only able to train harder, my body composition improved as well.  I did not restrict calories, simply changed my ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein.   

 

Resources:
Burke, Louise M., et al. “Carbohydrates for training and competition.” Journal of Sports Sciences, vol. 29, no. sup1, 2011, doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.585473.

Recipe: Pizza on Spelt Dough

Pizza is something that no one should have to give up just to reach their goals whether it is weight or just eating healthier.  Back when I was on a quest to eat healthier and more wholesome foods to support my workouts and running, I experimented diligently with healthier pizza options.  Again, I never ever recommend giving up pizza.

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This recipe for spelt pizza dough has been my go to for years now.  Sometimes I still do buy my dough, but making this recently made me realize how little time it takes to actually make the dough.  It was mix, knead, rise, and roll out.  Making it yourself also gives you the opportunity to use the type of flour you want, and in this case it was spelt flour.

I got introduced to spelt flour when I was working for Chef Marti Wolfson, one of my greatest teachers throughout my food experience.  I got intrigued and started experimenting with this healthy, nutty whole grain flour.  Spelt is high in many vitamins and minerals, and like most whole grains high in fiber.  Since, I’ve used spelt in muffins, cookies, desserts and doughs.  This recipe has been my favorite so far.

Now, THE SAUCE.  Even my Italian boyfriend who grew up on fresh sauce weekly agreed the sauce was bomb.  This super simple and quick sauce is packed with fresh garlic and basil to enhance the delicious Pomi tomatoes.  I highly recommend using Pomi chopped tomatoes for this sauce as it is what gave this sauce its wow factor.

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I made two pizzas with this dough, one topped with kale and mushrooms and the other a simple margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella.  Choose your own (healthy-ish) toppings to highlight this simple dough and sauce recipe.

Pizza Dough

  • 2 ½ cups of spelt flour
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ warm water

Sauce

  • 1 box Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • ½ yellow onion chopped, or 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ – 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp tomato paste

Combine 2 ¼ cups of spelt flour with the yeast, honey, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and water in a bowl until thoroughly combined.  The dough may be sticky.  Knead the dough on a well floured surface, incorporating the additional ½ cup of flour until dough is no longer sticky.  Do not over knead the dough, only for about 1-2 minutes.  Oil a bowl with the remainder of olive oil and place the dough in the bowl.  Cover with a kitchen towel and get aside to rise for 1 hour.

While the dough rises, prepare the sauce.  Saute the onions until translucent in olive oil, then add the garlic and saute for an another minute.  Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and crushed red pepper flakes.  Let sauce simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you have a pizza stone, heat it in the oven at 425 degrees and heat the stone for 10 minutes.  With the dough you can create 1 medium sized pizza or 2 smaller pizzas.  Roll the dough out on floured piece of parchment (I prefer parchment since it is easier to transfer in and out of the oven).  Add sauce and toppings as desired.  On one pizza I used fresh mozzarella and topped with basil.  The other pie I sauteed kale and mushrooms and topped with fresh mozzarella.  Place in the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and dough is cooked.

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Building Muscle and Losing Fat

The dual goal of building muscle and losing fat is common amongst exercise enthusiasts and athletes alike.  In an ideal world, we will have figured out a way for the body to build and maintain all muscle while simultaneously burning fat.  Unfortunately, science has not shown that to be true, despite claims from leading health and fitness publications.  

While we can maintain muscle or minimize its loss, it is extremely difficult to put on muscle when losing fat.  Our body can only be in one of two states; anabolic for building and catabolic for breaking down.  Therefore working on building muscle and decreasing body fat are ideally completed as two different goals with different fitness and nutrition strategies.   

The most important factor in increasing muscle size is an adequate training stimulus.  Without a an adequate training stimulus, mechanical and metabolic pathways that induce muscle growth cannot be stimulated.  This is where proper programming will help that is sufficient enough to stimulate muscle synthesis.  Nutritionally, in order to build muscle your body needs an excess of calories over your daily needs.  Yes, to be anabolic, or to grow, your net calories for the day needs to be positive.  Ideally, a diet higher in protein (1.2-2.0 g/kg of body weight) with adequate carbohydrates dependent on activity level and training intensity (ranging from 3-7 g/kg), with the remaining calories coming from healthy fats.  While sufficient protein and timing is important, overall calories is even more important to build muscle.  Eating three meals a day with snacks in between is essential to provide adequate nutrients and calories to fuel muscle building.  

Now to losing fat, or being catabolic.  The most important factor here is being at a caloric deficit.  A caloric deficit can be accomplished through increasing physical activity or through decreased caloric intake.  To preserve the most muscle mass, in other words decrease the amount of mass lost, it is ideal to engage in gradual reduction of weight over an extended period of time.  A study on athletes by Garth et al (2011), had shown that a gradual reduction of 0.7% of body weight to preserve muscle and strength is ideal.  Nutritionally, higher intakes of protein, including ingestion of whey protein supplements, have been shown to be helpful in weight loss studies in preserving lean mass.  This can also be very well achieved through a well planned diet with whole foods.

Just as with building muscle your need to have an adequate stimulus, to optimally stimulate fat loss you must engage in an effective exercise program.  For fat loss, increasing aerobic training (aka cardio) or engaging in HIIT (high intensity interval training) are recommended.  While some studies favor HIIT for burning fat, the overall consensus has been that both are relatively just as effective as the other.  Therefore what you choose is based on personal preference and what works best for you and your body.  In addition, engaging is resistance training is almost essential to minimize losses of muscle mass.  

Even if I am maintaining muscle or minimizing its loss, can I get strong?  Building strength and increasing muscle size (hypertrophy) generally exist in a positive relationship.  A larger, hypertrophied, muscle with greater muscle fibers will improve strength gains, mostly for trained individuals.  In novice strength trainers, most gains in strength come from neurological adaptations.  As training advances, an interplay of hypertrophic and neurological systems play a role in building or maintaining strength.  Therefore, you may still be catabolic (burning fat and some lean tissue) while maintaining or slowly building strength.  Staying calorically deficient and catabolic for an extended period of time can diminish strength.    
So can you be strong, muscular and cut all at the same time?  Yes but you most likely won’t be optimal in all those categories at one time.  It all depends on your fitness, athletic and body composition goals and where you would be most happy and most importantly healthy.  It also depends on the time, dedication and motivation you have to putting in the work in the gym and in the kitchen.  Determining what your ultimate goal is for you and your body should be based on what is best for you, not based on what society, your sport or what Instagram tells you to be.

Recipe: Chicken Tortilla Soup with Quinoa

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Up in the northeast, the weather has been quite frightful the past week.  While we are experiencing a rise in temperatures, warm soups and stews will warm the soul until Spring arrives.  Although we associate soups with winter, soups can be eaten year round.  When visiting Cartagena, Colombia this summer, on a 90 degree humid day, our first meal contained soup.

This week I’m sharing my take on my favorite soup, Tortilla Soup or Sopa Azteca.  A traditional Mexican comfort food, this dish  simple, with a fire roasted tomato, white onion and garlic puree mixed into chicken broth.  As with many traditional foods, variations vary from region to region and from family to family.  I’ve never had tortilla soup in Mexico, something I hope to experience as I plan a trip there this summer (wishful thinking, hopefully not).  I’ve had many Americanized versions, including  at Mexican restaurants. 

When recreating a dish not from my culture, my intention is to respect tradition while incorporating my own flair and flavor profiles. In this dish I did some research on traditional recipes, surveying authentic resources.  As you will notice, I love using cumin and smoked paprika in a lot of dishes, including this soup.  You can leave it out, but you will miss out.  I added quinoa for a hearty carb and protein punch, plus I love how quinoa thickens soups especially when it sits in the fridge, which also enhances the flavor of this dish.  Enjoy same day, but best the next!

Chicken Tortilla Soup  

  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 white or yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 whole chipotle peppers (or 1 if you are not a spice fan)
  • ¾ cup quinoa
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • Optional: ¼ tsp chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In pan, saute onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes, lightly heating to release flavor.  In a food processor or high power blender, add the cooked garlic and onions to the tomatoes and chipotle peppers and blend until pureed.  

In a large pot, add 6 cups of chicken broth, the puree, chicken breasts, bay leaf and desired spices.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked reaching an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  You can use a meat thermometer for this or simply cut open the breast to ensure it is completely white.

Remove the chicken from the broth and using two forks shred the chicken.  It take some work, but it is well worth the effort.  Click here for a quick article on shredding chicken. 

While you shred the chicken, add in the quinoa.  Next,  place the shredded chicken back into the simmering broth.  When quinoa is thoroughly cooked, remove bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy topped with crushed tortilla chips, guacamole, chopped avocado, fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, cheese or any combination of these!

 

 

Resources:

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/nov/30/food/fo-tortillasoup30

https://www.mexicanplease.com/chicken-tortilla-soup/

Where do you stand with you relationship with food and your body?

 

Evaluate your relationship today! 

Let's get stronger together.

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