My New Favorite Snack

ants on a log    When it comes to snacking, I’ve been getting in touch with my inner child lately, and I’m super happy about it! I hate to admit it, but I quite often get stuck in snack ruts. I bring the same old snacks to work, get sick of them, decide not to eat them, and then get so hungry that I find myself reaching for something sugary to quickly satisfy the intense hunger. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sugar and I still believe a sugary treat is fine in moderation, but when I snack on cookies or cupcakes or whatever sugar I can find I’m usually hungry again within the hour and I don’t feel as energized or satisfied as I do when I eat a more productive snack.   So because of this cycle I’ve been perusing the grocery aisles more thoroughly these days, and that is how I discovered my new favorite snack: ants on a log. For those of you with deprived childhoods, ants on a log is celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins on them. And it’s delicious. I first discovered this as a ready-made snack pack at Target, but it was fairly expensive so I decided to start making my own and it’s so simple I had to share!

So here’s why I recommend you try my new favorite snack too:

The taste: The crunch of the celery combined with the creaminess of the peanut butter and a hint of sweet from the raisins is culinary perfection (well maybe not quite, but it’s darn good!). Plus the raisins help satisfy a sweet tooth!

The cost: Celery is super cheap and raisins aren’t too expensive themselves. Depending on if you purchase regular or all-natural peanut butter will determine if the peanut butter is cheap per se, but even all natural is a pretty good bang for your buck when you consider a serving size. I recommend all-natural to avoid trans fat and added sugars.

The nutrition: Although celery gets a bad rep for being plain or “basically just water”, it does provide some important nutrients. Also, the fact that it as a high water content is not bad as this contributes to our daily fluid needs. Celery also provides small amounts of vitamins C, K, folate, and potassium to name a few. It’s also a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Plus, having celery as part of a snack is a good way to increase your overall daily vegetable intake, which most Americans don’t meet the recommendation for (5 servings a day, minimum). In addition to the celery, you get some fiber, potassium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B-6 in the raisins. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats but you could easily sub almond butter (or any nut butter) if that’s your preference.

So in short ants on a log will keep your stomach satisfied and your taste buds happy…and it might just help make your day a little more fun.

The Friday 5k Challenge!

iphone pics 335I’ve always had a hard time being motivated to exercise on Fridays. It’s the end of the week and I’m usually tired from working all week, as well as from my mid week workouts. Nothing sounds better than hitting snooze and sleeping in as late as possible. And working out after work on a Friday?! Yeah right!

A couple of Fridays ago I somehow found the motivation for a short run and during it I had a revolutionary (in my mind at least) idea: The Friday 5k Challenge! It’s simple, every Friday during the winter (so technically December 21-March 21) you run 5k. This is not a New Year’s Resolution, but a fitness motivation challenge so you can start whenever…but once you start you have to do it every Friday. No weather excuses. If it’s too cold or snowy for your liking then hit a treadmill. And it doesn’t have to be just running. Walking, snowshoeing, or even hiking are acceptable. As long as you’re on your feet and moving continuously for 3.1 miles it counts (so no biking or skiing, sorry!).

Now, if you’re an endurance athlete you are probably thinking “Just 5k?! That’s too easy!” I know ultrarunners run 5k’s in their sleep, literally during races, so it doesn’t have to be only 5k. Feel free to go further should the mood, or your training schedule, strike you. The distance may be small but the challenge is in doing it every single Friday. No excuses! I’m hoping this will become a big thing one day, so spread the word!

Will you take on the Friday 5k challenge with me?!

Recipe: Kale Quinoa Bowl with Poached Egg

photo(20)I get bored with the same old dinners, so I did an experiment tonight and I thought it turned out quite well! Check it out yourself.

(Serves 4)

1 cup quinoa, dry

1 bunch kale, torn into bite size pieces

2 cloves garlic

4 eggs

4 TBSP shredded coconut, sweetened if you like salty/sweet flavors mixed, unsweetened if not

½ cup slivered almonds

Olive oil

Salt and pepper, if desired

 

Prepare quinoa according to package directions (typically boiling 2 cups water with 1 cup quinoa and simmering for 15 minutes, or until all water is absorbed).

While quinoa is cooking, dice garlic and saute in olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add kale and saute a few more minutes, until kale is partially wilted. Add ½ of the almonds to the kale/garlic mixture during the last minute, so that they become slightly toasted. Add the other ½ of the almonds to the cooked quinoa and mix thoroughly.

Poach eggs in boiling water until whites are thoroughly cooked. Make sure yolk is still runny!

Portion cooked quinoa amongst 4 bowls and top each bowl with ¼ of the kale mixture, 1 TBSP shredded coconut and 1 poached egg. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

 

TidBit: Blowing Balloons Can Strengthen Your Lungs

My nemesis

My nemesis

Introducing TidBits, because frankly, sometimes I have something I want to share that doesn’t necessitate a whole blog. Today, it’s a revolutionary (insert some sarcasm) new idea I had about blowing up balloons to increase lung strength.

The idea came to me last week, as some coworkers and I prepped for a birthday celebration for a fellow RD. I bought an assortment of balloons, and as we blew them up we discovered that one particular kind was ridiculously difficult to inflate. We huffed, we puffed, we turned bright red and almost keeled over from lightheadedness, barely to inflate a forth of the balloon. It was hilarious to watch each other struggle. Eventually we figured out some tricks- if you stretch the balloon it helps, for instance- but in the meantime I started thinking about how this balloon blowing struggle was probably helping to strengthen my lungs….and what if it could be used on a regular basis to strengthen my lungs even more?!

Turns out it’s already a real thing. A quick google search yields several articles on the topic of blowing up balloons to increase your lung capacity and strength. Any balloon will do, but obviously the more difficult it is to inflate the harder your lungs will have to work. Why should you try it? Because blowing balloons forces you to use the intercostal muscles, which are responsible for spreading and elevating your diaphragm and ribcage when you breathe. Strengthening these muscles allows your lungs to expand and take in more oxygen, a clear benefit for any athlete, especially those of use who like to run at high altitude.

It’s quite simple too compared to the elaborate training schedules many athletes follow. Start by fully inflating 2-3 balloons per day (or the same balloon 2-3 times) and work your way up progressively to 10-15 per day. Working out was never so fun!

 

 

Navigating the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again when dieters around the world tremble in fear: that’s right, it’s holiday time!  Even though I’m not into diets, I do get that the holidays are a time when we are bombarded with parties and social gatherings and food and drink flow abundantly. I believe this food and drink should be enjoyed, but I get that no one wants to sideline their nutrition and health in the process.  So below is a blog I wrote awhile on back on Navigating the Holidays.

 

YImageou’ve heard the shocking statistics: the average American gains 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s! (Or something equally shocking).  Do I buy it? Not exactly, as a person would have to eat an extra 500 calories every day to gain that much weight in that time frame.  I do believe, however, that the holiday season sets us up for possible weight gain.  Not only do the holidays tend to revolve around big family meals, but there’s also usually lots of goodies lurking in the break room at work.  Holiday parties and travel make it hard to stick to a regular workout routine and eating schedule as well.  Alcohol flows like water.  It’s a set up, I get it, but if you have a plan you can navigate the holidays without weight gain and still enjoy yourself! Here’s how:

At parties:

    • Scan the buffet.  Check out the options before you start filling your plate and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.  Make sure there are some veggies on your plate too.
    • Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later.  This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned.  Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.
    • Keep a glass of water in hand.  If your hand is busy, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for food when you aren’t even hungry.  If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to slow yourself down and stay hydrated.
    • Choose your beverage wisely.  Eggnog is awesome but it’s a calorie bomb too.  Limit your intake of high calorie beverages such as eggnog (or anything with cream), margaritas, and white Russians.  Your best bet? A heart-healthy glass of red wine.
    • Dance.  If there’s a dance floor at the party hit it up.  Not only does dancing count as exercise, but it’s pretty hard to mindlessly eat while getting your boogey on!
  • At work:
    • Don’t eat just to be nice.  That’s so great that your coworker was kind enough to bring in that pie, cake, cookie, or whatever other sugar laden goodie that is calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there.  If you are getting pressured to try some and really don’t want to, you can always be polite and say “no thanks, I had some cookies earlier”.  One little white lie won’t guarantee you get coal in your stocking.
    • Enlist the support of a coworker with similar goals. A like-minded friend can help keep you in check when tempted to over-do it. Also, just telling someone your plan, say to only have 1 cookie, will help you stick to it.
    • Remove yourself from the situation.  Out of sight out of mind, right? If you know the staff lounge is full of treats don’t spend too much time there drooling over them.
  • At family gatherings:
    • Set boundaries and know when to say no.  Have a plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy family members.  Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not weight, such as by saying “No thank you, I am watching my cholesterol” instead of saying that you are watching your weight. Your crazy aunt may think you are perfect and don’t need to diet and get pushy about trying her dessert, but she likely won’t want to raise your cholesterol
    • Bring a nutritious dish of your own such as a veggie tray or vegetable based side dish like roasted Brussels sprouts.  Then make sure it fills up a good portion of your plate (at least ¼ of your plate should be veggies)
    • Have a game plan.  As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating.  The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”)
    • If you’ll be traveling for the holidays bring plenty of your own healthy snacks (nuts anyone?) to stave off hunger and avoid potential cookie binges.At family gatherings: 
  • In general:
    • Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to.  Prioritize the parties you really want to or feel you should attend, and let the others pass by with a polite “Sorry, I already have plans”.  It’s okay if your “plans” include staying home and hitting the hay early.
    • As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want it more (and eat more when you finally do give in).  Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.
    • Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress.  Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating.  Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health.   Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.
    • Lastly, keep your training schedule, at least as much as possible.  Don’t be an all or nothing person; a little exercise is better than none.  If you are limited for time focus on short intense workouts, such as 30 minutes of interval training.
    • Change your attitude.  Sure, it seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about.  Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends.  Start a non-food related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals!

Happy Holidays!

Accepting my First DNF

marathon photo

Pre race photo stop

Running is an inherently selfish sport. We do it for us, whether that be for our physical health, our mental sanity, or just for our own enjoyment . I think most runners know this, and many even accept it. It’s not a bad thing, it just is what it is. But it’s come into play for me this week, as I struggle to accept my first DNF. Even though I know there are much bigger problems in the world then a failed marathon, I can’t help but feel sad about it. And then I feel bad about feeling sad, because it is such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

I put in a decent amount of training for what was to be my marathon debut. Sure my training wasn’t perfect but it was overall good. I tapered right. I ate well. I had a plan for my pacing and race nutrition. I felt generally prepared and excited for it. I started to get nervous when I saw the weather forecast though. It was to be in the low to mid 80s the day of the race. I don’t like heat, and I certainly hadn’t been training in it. Mentally, this threw me for a loop. The morning of the race I felt more anxiety than excitement. Sure there was some excitement, but instead of my usual pre-race nerves (the kind that are actually helpful) there was a looming dread. Whether that was normal or an omen of what as to come I’m not sure. Did my pre race dread factor into my DNF? Who knows.

The race started off well enough. I started with the 3:55 pace group since my goal was to finish in under 4 hours. I felt good the first few miles and actually pulled a bit ahead of the pace group. I was going a bit faster than I had originally planned but it felt manageable. I wouldn’t say I felt good at any point in the beginning of the race, but I felt okay. Then around mile 6 or 7, as the heat began to sink in, I went from feeling okay to “meh”. By the half marathon check in I was struggling mentally with the heat and boredom but I was around 1:55 and still on target to break 4 hours. Somewhere in the next 3 miles things started going downhill fast. It got warmer and there wasn’t much shade (at least not comparatively for someone who likes to run in forests!). I continued to struggle mentally with not knowing the course or what to expect from the terrain. I felt incredibly bored and was questioning why I signed up for a road race. Around mile 16 to 17, two gels in, my stomach started to feel off. It wasn’t nauseated at first, but something was not right. Sick of not feeling well, after I crossed the mile 17 sign I started walking. The fact that I was walking morally defeated me and was the beginning of my true undoing. Although I had planned on just walking a bit, the next 3 miles turned out to be mostly walking. I tried to jog here and there but it made my stomach feel worse. I watched the pace groups pass me- 3:55, 4:00, 4:15. Soon even trying to jog felt pointless. I walked and contemplated how the heck things had fallen apart so badly. I had been prepared to push myself. Prepared to hurt. But not prepared to feel sick. And then, shortly after I passed the mile 20 sign, I started dry heaving. I pulled over to a patch of grass, sat down, and threw up. Luckily for me (but not them) I had gotten sick in front of a very nice group of spectators. They gave me a bottle of electrolyte drink, and a nearby race official called over the medics.   My vitals were fine and I actually felt a lot better after getting sick, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to try and continue, and frankly I didn’t want to. I was done. The very nice group of spectators gave me a ride to the finish where I met up with my friend who had done the half. She tried her best to console me by telling me how many times Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher have DNF’d, and it helped a bit. But when I called my family to tell them of my failure I was a mess. I felt as if I had let them down, in addition to myself. How could this happen? I can run a half marathon up a 14,000 foot peak with a decent time but I can’t finish a marathon at sea level?! I tend to pride myself on being a strong woman, both mentally and physically, but in that moment I felt weak. I felt dumb. And I felt sad. There was nothing left to do but cry.

I was pretty sad the rest of the day but with time, and maybe physical distance from the race venue, I feel better. Am I still bummed about how things turned out? Yes, but I think I’ve found acceptance. DNF’s suck, but basically every runner has one somewhere on their record. I’m hoping that months down the road I’ll look back at this as one of those situations that makes you stronger in the end.

And of course, there are always lessons to be learned. I’ve learned the importance of paying attention to electrolytes and hydration in the heat and humidity-which I already knew but for some reason did not apply. But mostly I’ve learned that I belong on the trails, not the road. I belong in the mountains, not on the beach. Will there be another marathon attempt in my future? I’m 99% sure there will be, but you can sure as heck bet it will be on the trails where I won’t be focused on time and pace…and I might even have fun!

Running and Your Immune System

DSC03178          My training for my first marathon had been going pretty well, until I caught a cold during what was supposed to be my highest mileage week. So as I work on accepting that I will be running my first marathon with my longest training run only being 18 miles (I’ll be well rested!), I’m also pondering how my training has impacted my immune system. Moderate amounts of exercise are generally thought to help boost the immune system, but when you are training hard and long, such as for a marathon, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. So what’s the deal?

Turns out that longer duration exercise impacts the immune system in several ways. One of the main issues is that stress of any kind, including exercise, stimulates the body to produce cortisol and other stress hormones which suppress the immune system. In small amounts your body adapts to the stress and comes back stronger, but it doesn’t always get a chance to do that when in the peak of training for an endurance event. Additionally, studies have found a significantly reduced amount of killer cells, a type of white blood cell that helps fight invading pathogens, in runners who just ran a half marathon. Those cells remained reduced for up to 24 hours, suggesting that runners are at an increased risk of infection in the day or so after a race. Other studies have hypothesized that athletes are most vulnerable for up to 72 hours after a race or hard workout.

So what’s a PR seeking runner to do?!

Of course many of the main recommendations for runners to stay healthy are the same as for the general public:

  • Limit exposure to sick people (as much as possible at least).
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (remember to sing Happy Birthday). Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, where germs can easily get into your body.
  • Manage other possible stressors in your life. Practice yoga or meditation or even seek out a therapist if you feel particularly stressed about other aspects of life.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at night. Studies show a decrease in immune function with <6 hours of sleep a night. Athletes should probably aim for 8-10 hours.

 

Additionally, athletes should:

  • Make sure you are taking rest days in your training cycle.
  • Build up your mileage at an appropriate rate to minimize added stress.
  • Limit your post race high fives and handshakes (if you’re really worried).

You should also pay attention to your nutrition for improved immune function:

  • Eat a well balanced diet.
  • Fuel adequately during workouts and training sessions. If you are running longer than 90 minutes make sure you are fueling yourself with adequate carbohydrate (30-60 grams per hour is the general recommendation). When your body does not get enough carbohydrate during prolonged exercise cortisol and other stress hormone levels are raised more than if you fuel properly.
  • Make sure you are practicing good recovery by having a recovery snack that contains carbohydrate and protein within 30 min of finishing tough training sessions and races.
  • Hydration is also important, as water helps flush out the system. Your urine should be pale yellow to clear.
  • Include plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet. Antioxidants found in fruits and veggies help fight free radical damage. The vitamins and minerals help support the immune system. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” didn’t come from nothing!
  • Make sure you are getting adequate protein in your diet. Aim for 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 150 lb athlete that would be 82-109 grams of protein each day.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc, as these are key players involved in maintaining immune health. It’s best not to rely on a supplement, so focus on diet first.  Try strawberries for vitamin C, sweet potatoes for vitamin A, almonds for vitamin E, and pumpkin seeds for zinc. Or just try the recipes below!
  • Consider probiotics. You gut is really one of the first lines of defense for your immune system, so make sure it is healthy and happy.

 

Add a protein to these two recipes and you have a complete immune boosting meal!

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Pumpkin Seeds

(Makes 1 salad)

1-2 cups spinach, washed and bite sized

1 TBSP pumpkin seeds (out of the shell!)

½ cup strawberries, quartered

1 oz Goat or Feta cheese

½ TBSP olive oil mixed with ½ TBSP balsamic vinegar

 

Roasted Almond Sweet Potatoes (from the Almond Board of California)

(Makes 6 servings)

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubessweet potato

3 TBSP olive oil

4 large garlic cloves (also thought to help boost immunity!), minced

1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp kosher salt

½ cup slivered almonds

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss. Arrange potato slices into a single layer on a heavyweight rimmed baking sheet or in a 9×13 inch baking sheet. Place on the top rack of the oven and roast until tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. On another baking sheet, spread out the slivered almonds. Place in the oven and toast until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the almond baking sheet and the sweet potatoes. Mix together in a serving bowl and serve warm.

 

 

 

Stay Healthy!