Wednesday, May 31, 2017

LESSONS IN SEWING FOR WHEN LIFE STARTS TO UNRAVEL

Wow, this is a busy time of year; for me and my clients. School just let out and even my most disciplined clients are struggling to balance their health and fitness goals with their summer routine. For me, family events (let’s just have a graduation and wedding all in one month, why don’t we…) and travel (…let’s throw in a mission trip too!) have me squeezing each precious minute out of each day. (One example is this month’s blog post coming out at 8:00 pm on the last day of the month!)

Typically, when we feel the “threads of life” unraveling due to these extra demands, we have the temptation to ditch our health and fitness plan, especially if it’s new and not a life habit yet. Why? Because our minds (and bodies) desire to protect us from stress and want to revert to anything comfortable and familiar. And if our health plan is not yet a habit, it’s still a bit uncomfortable to implement consistently. Let’s be honest, even if it IS a habit, it’s still hard to implement in the midst of chaos (speaking from experience)!

Any of this sounding familiar? If so, I have a quick lesson in SEWing to keep those threads from completely unraveling. During this busy period, focus ONLY on the health items below to help you stay on track in a manageable way, beat the odds of burn-out and weight gain, and feel your best until you can get back to the other elements of your health plan.

S=SLEEP AND SPIRIT
Adequate sleep is non-negotiable. Sleep will affect everything from food cravings to stress levels to productivity. I know…you are so busy you can barely shower, let alone get to bed on time. Just trust me…prioritize and PROTECT your sleep and you will be amazed at how much more effective and efficient you are with “all the things”. And, a lot more cheerful too! Again, sleep is non-negotiable!

Taking just a few minutes to nurture your spirit will also pay huge dividends. This will look different for everyone; meditate, pray, read, or practice any other behavior that provides a sense of peace and fulfillment. This can happen anytime; but to set your mindset for the day, it’s most effective in the morning.

E=EAT
The worst scenario during stressful times is to find yourself hungry. When the stress hormone cortisol is running high and we are physically and mentally exhausted, our body (in its desire to protect us) will crave quick energy like processed carbs. This sets us up for a cycle of quick energy followed by a crash followed by cravings, etc.

To counteract this biological response to stress, eat nutrient-dense REAL FOOD spaced evenly throughout the day to maintain blood sugar, energy levels, and keep cravings at bay. And keep food choices simple! A busy time of life is not when to try a new “meal-plan” requiring a list of ingredients, shopping trips, and recipes. Bottom line, choose a few favorite foods that you can pluck, pick, shoot, or catch (well, maybe not you, but someone) and minimize foods that come in a box, bag, can, or carton with a long ingredient list. Simple!

W=WALK AND WATER
You may not be able to carve out an hour at the gym, so aim to walk whenever/wherever possible – 10 minute increments is all you need as the aerobic benefits are cumulative. Think movement, more than exercise. When life settles down, you can get back to your full training plan.

Let me state the obvious…water is essential to life! Our cells, organs, tissues all need water to carry out their functions. Water is a major component of blood and transports nutrients and oxygen throughout our bodies. Symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, cramps, even cravings! Not ideal ever, but especially when dealing with added life demands. Make it a habit to have water with you at all times to keep your body running as efficiently as possible.

NOW WHAT?
As promised, I’m ending all posts with “Now What” action steps because as much as I love that you read this blog, it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t ACT on it. So, here’s your 3-part “Call to Action” this month:
  1. Do one thing TODAY to improve either your sleep quantity or quality – turn in earlier, cut out caffeine in the afternoon, get rid of any light omitting device in your bedroom, etc.
  2. Pick 3 favorite real food items to always have on hand (and go buy them).
  3. Put walking shoes/socks and a reusable water bottle in your car so you are ready for a walk and water whenever/wherever.

I could do a separate blog post on each of the SEW items above (and maybe soon I will) but the point of this post was to provide SIMPLICITY in times of chaos. So, next time you feel like life is coming apart at the seams, you now know how to SEW in order to keep things together, prioritize your health, and ensure you feel strong mentally and physically to tackle whatever comes your way.

Be MORE,

Coach Lisa

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The 5 Essential Kitchen Gadgets That Can Improve Your Health…all under $10! (AND the shocking confession of a health and fitness coach…)

At the risk of losing all credibility with my audience, I’m starting this blog with a confession. I have a Twinkies Maker in my kitchen. Now, to my defense, I bought it long ago as a novelty gift for my kids and I think the one and only time we used it was that day. Here’s the point…the market is flooded with kitchen gadgets, many of which lack nutritional benefits. So, I offer my recommendations for the 5 Essential Kitchen Gadgets that can actually improve your health…all simple to use and inexpensive.



DIGITAL FOOD SCALE
Numerous studies indicate that most people grossly underestimate their daily food intake. Thanks in part to ever-growing restaurant portion sizes, we have a hard time recognizing a proper “serving”. A food scale will set you straight. I’m not encouraging obsession with weighing all food forever, but this is an essential tool at the start of a health journey to increase awareness of portions. And awareness is the first step to change. (Of course other measurement tools like spoons and cups are important too!)

STEAMER BASKET
You’re on your new health kick and you come home from the local farmer’s market with a bounty of colorful vegetables. And then a bit of panic sets in…now what? How should you cook them? Sound familiar? To maximize nutrients in vegetables, it’s important to minimize cooking time, temperature, and liquid, and a steamer basket fits this bill! Bonus: it’s super quick, easy, and mess-free! (Side note: I also use my steamer basket to steam eggs…they peel perfectly every single time! Here’s the link: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_steam_eggs/ ).

PRODUCE BRUSH
You must wash produce…this includes organic, homegrown, and even items with inedible skins (like melons). No matter how they are grown, bacteria and other contaminants can find their way onto the surface of that produce (have you seen people man-handling the produce at the store?). Tap water and a good produce brush is all you need. Skip the costly produce washes…studies suggest tap water can do just a good of job removing bacteria. A few tips: 1) Leave skin on produce like zucchini, cucumbers, apples, etc. to maximize nutrients and fiber. If you choose to peel, wash the produce first (this goes for inedible skins too) so as not to contaminate the inside when you cut into the skin. 2) Wash produce right before use…washing and storing ahead of time can cause items to spoil faster.

OIL MISTER
Cooking sprays are very convenient and make clean-up a breeze. But have you ever looked at the ingredients list? There’s more in that aerosol can than oil… soy, propellant, silicone, and a few other hard-to-pronounce ingredients, all of which are linked to negative health effects. Just as detrimental to health is the oil itself. Oils used in sprays include canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower…many of which are genetically modified and highly refined. GMOs have been linked to too many health issues to list here. Better yet, create your own spray using an Oil Mister and pure oil. My favorites are Olive (organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed), Avocado, and Macadamia Nut.

SPIRALIZER
I’ll cut to the chase: Excess carbohydrates equals excess insulin levels equals excess body fat equals health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease just to name a few. And one carbohydrate that is very easy to eat in excess is pasta! Did you know that one proper serving of pasta is about the size of your closed fist? Restaurant portions can be 4 times that amount! Not only that, but pasta contains gluten which is known to negatively impact gut and immune health. Spiralizer to the rescue! A spiralizer can turn vegetables into “pasta”! Although many vegetables contain carbs, they come with other nutrients and fiber, having less impact on insulin levels. Can’t give up pasta cold turkey? Try half and half to start – add some spiralized zucchini to a small portion of pasta.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (more than $10):
BPA-Free portable storage containers – In our fast-paced lives, we often need to eat on the go. Take control of your food quality, portions, and cost by packing your own meals and snacks. Having some portable storage containers on the ready will help you do so!

Slow cooker – A slow-cooker is the answer to the age-old question, “What’s for Dinner?” This item is essential for folks who are away from home all day and too exhausted (physically and mentally) to cook a nutritious dinner when they get home. Take a few minutes on a Sunday to look at your calendar for the week and decide on your “slow-cooker” days and (low-sugar) recipes. Added tip: always cook extra for leftovers!

NOW WHAT?
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve read the entire post…thanks! I sure appreciate you reading but it doesn’t do you any good unless it promotes change. So most of my posts from this point forward will include "NOW WHAT" action steps. Here's your 2-part “Call to Action” this month...
1. Purchase at least one of the gadgets above and try it out in your kitchen!
2. Look at the gadgets you already have and get rid of at least one that you never use and/or has a negative impact on your health (goodbye Twinkies Maker!).

Healthy eating doesn’t take cooking classes, a degree in nutrition, or fancy tools. The simple tools and tweaks suggested above can have a cumulative positive impact on your health. Feel free to comment on your experience. And if you have a favorite gadget that is not mentioned, let me know!

Be MORE,

Coach Lisa

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Does a Health Coach Read?

I love to read…sometimes to a fault; staying up too late (ironic…see book #1) or letting other things slide for the sake of “just one more chapter”! Reading can be educational, inspiring, entertaining, thought-provoking, or just relaxing. As a Health and Fitness Coach, I tend to gravitate to books in that genre and I find myself reading them primarily through the eyes of my clients; how would the tips, techniques, strategies, messages, etc. in the book resonate and provide value to them as they seek to create a healthier lifestyle?

To that end, I have compiled my TOP 10 MUST-READS for anyone seeking to improve their healthThe list includes books addressing key fundamentals affecting health such as sleep, stress, nutrition, exercise, spirit, and relationships. I suggest you scan the list and notice the one or two that jump off the page to you…that is probably an area that needs attention. Just be careful not to sacrifice sleep for reading….which brings me to #1:

  1. SLEEP SMARTER; Shawn Stevenson
    This book tops the list because quality sleep impacts all other aspects of health – mind, body, and spirit. Poor sleep quality has significant hormonal, metabolic, emotional, and physical consequences that will undermine even the best of health programs. The author has compiled extensive research to support and explain these claims and provides practical ways to improve your sleep starting tonight! http://sleepsmarterbook.com/     
  2. BETTER THAN BEFORE; Gretchen Rubin
    I refer to habits as “the magic pills” that everyone is looking for when trying to create a healthier life, and this book explains the core principles of habit formation. Both solid research and proven strategies on this topic are presented in an easy-to-read, entertaining format. You will find yourself resonating with every chapter. http://gretchenrubin.com/books/before-after/before-after/
  3. GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES (or The Case Against Sugar or Why We Get Fat); Gary Taubes
    We’ve heard many diet theories over the years…eat low fat, eat whole grain, eat more fruit, eat only egg whites, just eat less, and on and on! This book sets the record straight on nutrition for optimal health based on SCIENCE, not popular opinion. This author challenges traditional diet recommendations and provides a convincing argument with solid evidence. The reason I’ve given a few alternatives is because ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ is an extremely comprehensive “text-book” on the matter; great for those in the field or who want a very detailed study. The author makes many of the same points in a more “user-friendly” format in the other two suggestions. Bottom line, these books affected the way I eat forever. That may sound over-dramatic, but it’s true. And I am healthier now than ever before. http://garytaubes.com/works/
  4. PRIMAL ENDURANCE; Mark Sisson
    This book may not resonate with everyone as the primary audience is endurance athletes, but I include it here because it challenges a conventional workout and nutrition approach used by both athletes and recreational exercisers alike; that of carbohydrate-dependent chronic cardio. The author, an elite endurance athlete himself, offers an alternative that has proven benefits, both for athletic performance and overall health. He proposes several strategies to conquer athletic goals while also preserving both short and long-term health. https://www.primalblueprint.com/books/primal-endurance/
  5. THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES; Gary Chapman
    Why is there a book about LOVE on my list? Because having meaningful and supportive relationships is a critical aspect of health. We all are familiar with either “healthy” or “unhealthy” relationships and have felt the effects of either one on our overall well-being. Feeling loved is a basic human need and this author is an authority on the subject. He proposes that we each have a language from which we give and receive love. Understanding and speaking these unique languages can result in positive improvements in any relationship and, as a result, your health. http://www.5lovelanguages.com/resource/the-5-love-languages/
  6. POWER OF LESS; Leo Babauta
    When trying to change health behavior, simplicity is a key factor in our ability to adhere to new habits. Too many choices, goals, distractions, etc., can drain our time, our willpower, our physical and mental strength, and leave us overwhelmed and exhausted. This book offers common sense tactics for streamlining your life so you can focus on the essential, such as accomplishing those health goals once and for all! (Search Power Of Less in Amazon Books.)
  7. SIMPLE ABUNDANCE; Sarah Ban Breathnach
    Sorry guys, this one is strictly for the gals. Meant to be read over the course of a year, this book features 366 short essays from women’s perspectives all with the goal of helping us appreciate the joy, beauty, and simple pleasures in our messy, imperfect, and demanding lives. I first read this book over 20 years ago at a time when I was juggling work, marriage, and a new baby and chronically exhausted, both emotionally and physically. It was so impactful that the original copy still holds a coveted spot on my nightstand, as I refer to it often.  http://www.sarahbanbreathnach.com/simpleabundance
  8. JOURNAL; you are the author!
    Journaling is an instrumental part of my health coaching practice for many reasons. Writing things down provides awareness and clarity, boosts self-confidence and self-discipline, can help control emotions and stress, and increases probability of reaching goals, among other benefits. As part of a health program, a journal can be used for practical purposes such as keeping a food log and tracking health habits, or for more emotional benefit, like recording gratitude and spiritual insights. You can buy them blank or with some structured journal prompts built in. This is one of my favorites: https://www.intelligentchange.com/collections/all/products/the-five-minute-journal. And if you aren’t currently a fan of journaling, here’s a book suggestion that might just change your mind: http://katiedalebout.com/let-it-out/
  9. FICTIONAL BOOK SERIES; Your Choice!
    I recommend getting engrossed in a fictional book series for a few reasons. First, there is a therapeutic benefit to unplugging from our everyday lives and “entering” a world far from our own reality. Second, reading fiction is good for brain health, sparking imagination and creativity. Finally, on a practical front, if you are reading (I recommend at night, in bed), you are not succumbing to late-night snack cravings or watching mindless TV (which often include snacks and can impact sleep…see book #1 above). I recommend a series because it will help you build a habit of reading. Choose a series from your favorite genre, just make sure it has little in common with your life (e.g. if you are a lawyer, don’t read a fictional law series…the idea is to unplug from your reality).
  10. SPIRITUAL RELFLECTION; Your Choice!
    This is obviously a very personal topic. It’s my opinion, and that of a growing body of evidence, that spiritual practices are associated with better health and well-being through the physiological effects of positive emotions. Regular spiritual practices in various forms (prayer, devotion, meditation, faith services, etc.) can quiet the mind, increase gratitude, elicit hope, relieve stress, promote joy, and on and on. No matter your beliefs, these benefits can provide a strong foundation on which to build your healthy lifestyle.

And there you have it! My top 10 MUST-READS for anyone trying to improve their health. If you have a favorite that you think I should know about, please comment!

Be Well!

Coach Lisa

Sunday, January 15, 2017

NEW YEAR, NEW PANTRY!

As a follow up to my December blog, A Health Coach's Guide to Unique Gift Giving, I'd like to share my TOP 10 PANTRY STAPLES, all of which I get from Thrive Market (www.Thrivemarket.com). A Thrive Market Membership earned a spot on my gift list because this online, membership-based market provides top-quality products for your home, body, and kitchen at a fraction of the cost you’d pay at higher-priced natural markets, making healthy living affordable!

Combine these pantry items with some grass-fed protein, omega-3 rich fish, cage-free eggs, avocados, mostly green veggies, and coffee (for me at least), and life is both nutritious and delicious! I’ve included some helpful links so you can do your own research as you consider adding these items to your kitchen.

STEVIA – While not a “health food” per se, I’m putting this one first because sugar is highly addictive and, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, deadly. In a future blog, I’ll discuss my favorite books, a few of which take a deep dive into the addictive response and health hazards of sugar, but for now I’ll say this: If you want to improve your health substantially in 2017, reduce your sugar intake. And stevia can help you meet that challenge because let’s be honest, we need some sweetness in our life! Stevia is my sweetener of choice because it is a natural herb that is 30 times sweeter than sugar with a low glycemic index, having minimal impact on blood sugar. You can find it in powdered or liquid form.

GHEE – Ghee is clarified butter, which simply means that the milk solids and water of butter have been removed, leaving only butter fat. This may not sound healthy, but there are many benefits to ghee. Dr. Axe has a great graphic to explain: https://draxe.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Ghee-Benefits-.jpg. In short, ghee gives you the taste, creaminess, and richness of butter but without the lactose or casein, making it a great option for those intolerant of dairy. It’s also rich in fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K: all great for bone, brain, and immunity health.

100% CACAO (either powder or baking bars) – Full disclosure…this girl needs her chocolate! The great news is that raw cacao is considered a superfood, full of nutrients that boost your mood, immune system, and brain power. With raw cacao in your pantry, you can create your own chocolatey treats and control the other ingredients, using stevia, coconut, nuts, nut butter, dried fruit, etc., instead of the sugar and milk added to most processed chocolate. There are endless recipes online; here’s one of my favorites: http://healthyrecipesblogs.com/2015/02/23/coconut-clusters/ 

BONE BROTH – In my opinion, bone broth is an underpublicized, unknown superfood. Low in calories and high in nutrients, bone broth provides health benefits for every part of your body: your muscles, joints, ligaments, digestive system, brain, and more. To get these benefits though, plain broth products will not do. Most are lab-produced and are not made with the health containing bones. More info on the benefits of bone broth can be found here: https://draxe.com/the-healing-power-of-bone-broth-for-digestion-arthritis-and-cellulite/

COCONUT MILK – The benefits of coconuts and coconut milk include improving heart health, preventing disease, lowering bad cholesterol, fighting infection, improving brain function, hydrating, and more. The most notable advantage of coconut milk is its high concentration of MCTs (Medium-Chain Triglycerides), a healthy fat which provides energy, reduces joint inflammation, and helps to manage blood sugar. Coconut milk is a highly nutritious, dairy free alternative to use in your favorite recipes. (You’ll also find coconut oil and coconut flakes in my panty; coconut in some form is in my daily diet.)

HOT SAUCE – Life needs a little kick! Hot sauce contains capsaicin, a compound that is linked to many health benefits from naturally suppressing your appetite to preventing prostate cancer. My favorite hot sauce brand is Cholula, and I use it on everything from eggs to burgers.

AVOCADO OIL – The benefits of olive oil have been well publicized, but if you’d like to change things up a bit in the kitchen, try Avocado Oil. Avocados contain those “healthy” omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients which have numerous health benefits such as lowering bad cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, easing arthritis symptoms, improving bone density, and providing antioxidants. Avocado oil is so versatile…you can use it to bake, sauté, or on salads. Read more here: https://thrivemarket.com/primal-kitchen-avocado-oil#pdp-long-description

CHIA SEEDS – We can all sing the jingle from the infomercial promoting the Chia Pet. Who knew that the subject of this novelty gift is a superfood? This tiny seed packs a powerful nutrition punch with omega-3’s that support hearth health and fiber for digestive health. Use them to bake, in salads, or my favorite way…to make pudding. Here’s just one example: http://minimalistbaker.com/overnight-chocolate-chia-seed-pudding/

ALMOND OR COCONUT FLOUR – One of the kitchen staples of an American pantry is flour. Yet traditional flour contains gluten which has been shown to cause a wide range of negative symptoms from digestive discomfort on one end of the spectrum to auto-immune reactions (celiac disease) on the other. Whether you have been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or not, minimizing gluten in your diet is wise. More info can be found here: http://paleoleap.com/11-ways-gluten-and-wheat-can-damage-your-health/.  So, if you’d like to embrace a gluten-free way of eating but still want to bake your favorite recipes, Almond and Coconut flours are the answer! High in fiber and other nutrients, you can feel good about using them in all your favorite baked goods like breads, cakes, and cookies.

TURMERIC – This unassuming spice is possibly the most powerful herb on earth with thousands of studies showing its effectiveness at preventing, treating, and even reversing disease. Turmeric’s main active compound is curcumin, a proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. The powder form not only adds a unique spice to anything from eggs to soup, it can also help tame heartburn and calm an upset stomach.

So there’s a peak into my pantry and a few reasons why these products earn a spot on my shelf. This year, aim to replace one less-healthy pantry item with one of these suggestions each month. I’ve given you enough for 10 months…you can add two of your own. And if you use Thrive Market, you won’t need to break your grocery budget to do so!

Be Well!

Coach Lisa


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Health Coach’s guide to UNIQUE Holiday Gift Giving

The gift of HEALTH is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving! There are the popular choices for healthy gift giving: gym memberships, workout wear, activity trackers, healthy cookbooks, etc., all of which can provide great value. But if you pride yourself on finding that unique gift, you’ve come to the right place! I offer my TOP 8 UNIQUE (and yes…some unusual) suggestions:

(It’s important to note that these are my personal unbiased favorites and in no way do I receive any “kick-back” for promoting certain products.)  

SLEEP SMARTER book (by Shawn Stevenson) – There are many books that I could suggest, but this one tops the list because quality sleep impacts all other aspects of health – mind, body, and spirit. Poor sleep quality has significant hormonal, metabolic, emotional, and physical consequences that will undermine even the best of health programs. More information can be found here: http://sleepsmarterbook.com/        

JOURNAL – Journaling is an instrumental part of my health coaching practice for many reasons. Writing things down provides awareness and clarity, boosts self-confidence and self-discipline, can help control emotions and stress, and increases probability of reaching goals, among other benefits. As part of a health program, a journal can be used for practical purposes such as keeping a food log and tracking health habits, or for more emotional benefit, like recording gratitude and spiritual insights. You can buy them blank or with some structured journal prompts built in. This is one of my favorites: https://www.intelligentchange.com/collections/all/products/the-five-minute-journal

ESSENTIAL OILS – I am not an expert on oils, nor do I sell them. And even as a holistic health coach, I was skeptical of their effectiveness, until I tried them for myself. Whether you diffuse, ingest, or apply topically, high quality essential oils are shown to help with everything from allergies to snoring; digestion to headaches; moodiness to wrinkles. The key words are HIGH QUALITY. More info can be found here: https://doterra.com/US/en or https://draxe.com/natural-remedies-category/essential-oils/

SQUATTY POTTY – Bet you didn’t know that there is an ideal “potty posture”! The Squatty Potty is a bathroom aid that, shall I say, helps with comfort and ease of elimination. The obvious health benefit of elimination is removing toxins from our bodies, while also reducing bloating and other gastrointestinal distress. And, come on…we all just feel lighter and healthier afterward! This would make a memorable “Secret Santa” gift! More info can be found here: https://www.squattypotty.com/

RESISTANCE BANDS – Regular exercise is important to overall health, and strength training is a key component to a well-rounded fitness program. Lean muscle mass not only looks good on the outside, but also provides advantages on the inside like increased metabolism at rest, bone health, and improved balance. Resistance bands provide a low impact, portable, and affordable option for people of all fitness levels.

OMELET PAN – I thought long and hard about the one kitchen item I would include here; there are many on my list of “must-haves”! So why are omelets so ideal? EGGS are a near perfect food, containing good fats and high quality proteins, and nearly every vitamin and mineral our bodies need. Not only that, but they are a great vehicle to hold other nutrition powerhouses like avocados, smoked salmon, spinach, etc. And eat the whole egg, not just the whites. Most of the benefits are found in the yolk. Don’t worry; studies show that the dietary cholesterol in eggs has little impact on blood cholesterol levels.

BLUE TOOTH SPEAKER – Optimal health includes managing our stress levels and, in my opinion, music is one of the best ways to do so. Whether you choose soothing or upbeat; music can have a profound effect on emotions and energy levels. And if you dance along, you get the added benefit of burning a few calories!

THRIVE MARKET Membership– This online, membership-based market provides the best healthy and natural products for your home, kitchen, and body at a fraction of the cost you’d pay at higher-priced natural markets. The best part of this gift is that for every paid membership, Thrive market provides a free membership for a family in need. Truly the gift that keeps giving! www.thrivemarket.com

Stay tuned for future posts about my favorite things related to the items above like my top 10 book recommendations, my essential kitchen tools, and my favorite Thrive Market items.

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Beyond Bananas and Bagels: 6 Foods Every Endurance Runner Should Consider

Pasta, Bagels, Peanut Butter, Bananas, Gels, Energy Bars…all items likely to be found in the runner’s kitchen leading into race day, and each for good reason, as they contain certain macronutrients to potentially boost running performance. But to help ensure a strong training season long before race day, runners need a well-rounded nutrition strategy.

Now, I’ll preface this post with full disclosure on my scope of practice: I am a Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer, and running enthusiast. I’m not a registered dietician so I won’t spell out ideal macronutrient percentages, meal plans, and food timing. I’ll leave that up to your coaches and/or doctors. Instead, based on my work with clients, nutrition research, and my own experience, I offer 6 foods that are especially important for endurance runners:  

Spinach – Why? IRON!
Iron is a major component of our red blood cells which help to carry oxygen to our muscles. Obviously, this is especially important for endurance runners; the iron demand is higher, thus can be depleted faster. It's estimated that over 50% of endurance runners have depleted iron stores. If training runs feel increasingly hard and/or you become fatigued more quickly, the cause may be depleted iron. Not a fan of spinach? Other great sources of iron include red meat, oysters, clams, muscles, sardines, and egg yokes.

Tip: Chase your iron-rich meal with some O.J. as research shows that vitamin C will help your body absorb the iron.

One important note about iron supplementation: iron can be dangerous in too high amounts, so always check with your doctor before taking iron in a pill form.

Greek Yogurt - Why? CALCIUM AND PROTEIN!
Not to oversimplify, but okay... Calcium strengthens bones. Protein builds and repairs muscles. Strong bones and muscles are essential “equipment” for endurance runners. Any weakness can, at minimum, impact running performance and at worst, lead to injury.

Tip: Stir in some mandarin oranges. Just as with iron, vitamin C can help calcium absorption.

Quinoa - Why?  PROTEIN AND CARBS!
I’ve already mentioned the benefits of protein above and quinoa is a plant-based source of a complete protein. So let’s turn our attention to carbs. Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient for both quick and stored energy. Carbs can get a bad rap because over-consumption turns to extra sugar in the body which can be stored as fat. Consumed in the right quantities and quality however, carbs are an important part of a balanced meal plan, especially for runners who demand more energy during training season. Aim for a balance of unprocessed sources: quinoa, potatoes, rice, fruit, etc.

Tip: Your muscles and liver can store up to 2000 calories worth of energy from carbs which will give you plenty “in the tank” for runs shorter than 90 minutes. Longer than that, determine your personal plan for consuming additional simple carbs during your run (honey, jelly beans, gels, etc.).

Salmon - Why? PROTEIN, FAT, VITAMIN D
Runners need good healthy fat. Unsaturated sources have been shown to improve metabolism (aka energy), heighten brain function, protect joints, aid recovery, and boost immunity; I don’t know of a runner out there who couldn’t benefit from all of that! As an added bonus, Salmon is a good source of Vitamin D which is linked to increased muscle strength (of course, few runners are deficient in Vitamin D since the main source is sunlight).

Tip: If you’re not a fish fan, other sources of healthy fat include nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado. Just watch your portion sizes as fat grams are more calorie-dense.

Almond Butter Why? ALL OF THE ABOVE ON ONE SPOON!
Nut butters contain a near perfect ratios of carbs, healthy fats, and protein. Peanut butter is usually a staple in a runner’s diet, but other nut butters can be less inflammatory to the gut. The reason is that a peanut is not a nut at all; it’s a legume…a bean…and well, you know what beans can do to your gut. Not ideal for running.

Tip: Almond butter makes a great pre- or post-run snack. Spread it on a rice cake with bananas one hour before or immediately following a long training run to boost both energy and recovery.

Cherry Juice – Why? RECOVERY!
Cherries contain nutrients and antioxidants that work to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation, thus helping runners recover after a long training run. Look for organic, pure, 100% tart cherry juice, not the watered down cherry-flavored juice “look-alike”. If you don’t like the tartness of cherry juice, watermelon also contains anti-inflammatory components.

Tip: Post-run recovery drink – blend equal parts tart cherry juice, almond milk, and ice!

Final Thought…
As endurance runners, we are great at developing training plans to get us to race day in top form. To maximize this training, we need to give the same thought and attention to our nutrition plans. Food has the power to energize, strengthen, protect, and restore the body…what everyone needs, but most especially runners! My final and most important tip: don’t test any new food strategy on race week, only during training. I don’t want you cursing me out on race day because your new “Greek Yogurt Spinach Quinoa Cherry Juice” smoothie recipe is not settling!

Happy running…and eating!

p.s. Consult a registered dietician if you want a customized nutrition approach.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sleep your Way to Better Running!

Let me start by stating the obvious: to be a better runner, you need to run! Putting in the miles is required of any runner, whether they want to go faster or further. But there is a tipping point at which more miles could result in over-training and decreased performance. Luckily, there are several things you can do “off-road” to improve running performance. This post is about my favorite: SLEEP!

In fact, Usain Bolt (who knows a thing or two about running) shares my enthusiasm. He is quoted as saying that SLEEP is the most important part of his daily training explaining that, “I need to rest and recover for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.” As a Health and Fitness coach (and runner myself), I’ve seen personally and professionally how this one factor can influence running effectiveness.

Why?
The very simple explanation: When we run, we break down muscle. When we sleep, our bodies release growth hormones which stimulate muscle growth and repair. If we are sleep deprived, we can’t release as much, thus muscles don’t get sufficiently repaired. At minimum, this will lead to decreased strength in our runs; at worse, this can lead to injury. Additionally, sleep does a “whole bunch of other great stuff” (scientific term) for your body like boosting your immune system, regulating hormones, boosting brain power, etc. My personal “go-to” expert on all things sleep is fitness and nutrition expert Shawn Stevenson, and his book SleepSmarter. Highly recommend for anyone, but especially runners. 

How Much?
So, how much sleep are we talking about? Interestingly enough, studies differ on the best total time, but here is what is documented: 1) runners/athletes in season need more sleep; 2) the harder you train, the more you need; 3) runners who increased their average sleep time, increased their average speed; 4) elite athletes sleep on average 9-10.5 hours each night.

There is also interesting research which tells us to focus on the sleep cycle more than the total length. Without diving deep into sleep science, just know that a typical sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and to feel most refreshed, you should aim to wake at the end of each cycle. You know how you feel “groggy” if you are startled awake from a deep sleep vs. waking naturally? This is your sleep cycle in action. Of course, there are always other factors at play that could affect this cycle but in general, aim to sleep in 90 minute increments with 6 hours being the minimum (i.e, 6, 7.5, 9, 10.5 hours, etc.).

Tips for Better ZZZ’s

  1. Get on a schedule – same time to bed and wake every day; yes, that means the weekend too!
  2. Keep your bedroom cool and dark (zero light; seriously…ZERO).
  3. Limit caffeine after lunch. This will vary per person as we all metabolize caffeine at a different rate, but this is a good general rule; adjust accordingly for you.
  4. Here’s a biggy…no screen time at least one hour before bed. Wait...what? What about my IPAD, Kindle, Phone, Laptop, TV, etc? Again, without diving into science, just know that the blue light emitted from these and other electronic devices suppresses your natural ability to release sleep hormones like melatonin. Recent studies also show that this light may increase the “stress” hormone cortisol. This is the exact opposite of what you want at bedtime which is higher melatonin and lower cortisol. If you must use these devices before bed, enable the “night shift” mode if available or buy special glasses that block out this blue light.
  5. I highly recommend the book mentioned above for more information on these tips and so much more about the science of sleep!
Final Thought…
Running is a tough sport and we runners are a determined, tough bunch. We set our sights on a goal (whether personal or a schedule race) and then prioritize our life around the running plan to get there. We pound the pavement over endless miles often in less than desirable weather; we sacrifice Friday night parties, wine with dinner, lazy weekend mornings, and toenails all for the sake of this plan. But we are missing out on maximizing this plan if we simply focus on the miles. Like Usain Bolt, I encourage you to think of SLEEP as an important part of your plan; a time for your body to "absorb the training". Stay tuned for a future post on my other “Off-Road” Tip to improve your running performance. Until then...good night!