Category Archives: Nutrition

5 Healthy Thanksgiving Eating Tips

The holidays are a time to be merry with those we love, drink, eat and… gain a couple of extra pounds. Thanksgiving is no exception. In fact, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average person gains one pound over the holidays and never loses it. No one wants that!

On the holiday season, stay on track with your healthy lifestyle while enjoying your Thanksgiving with these 5 eating tips:

1. Be prepared for Thanksgiving

Keeping yourself from eating on Thanksgiving is an unhealthy and non effective tactic. If you want to avoid overeating, instead of going into your Thanksgiving meal on an empty stomach, start your day with a well-balanced breakfast.

Eating a healthy breakfast jump-starts your metabolism, helps you get nutrients in before a great meal and keeps your hunger satiated, by preventing a sugar crash.

Opt for healthy and filling options, such as oatmeal with fruit, eggs and toast or yogurt. If you’re thinking on hitting the road on Thanksgiving, check out our pre-run suggestions.

2. A Healthy Feast

5 Healthy Thanksgiving Eating Tips

Your Thanksgiving meal doesn’t have to be unhealthy to taste good. Go through your favorite dishes’ recipes and replace all unhealthy ingredients with tasteful and healthy options.

Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Turkey is a great source of lean protein, but when eating it you’ll probably want to skip the skin.
  • Opt for olive oil instead of vegetable oil.
  • For a more nutritious option, consider mashing sweet potatoes – the orange variety – instead of regular potatoes.
  • When it comes to sauces, gravy is the better option. Canned sauces and cranberry sauce are very high in sugar content.
  • If you’d like to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, red wine is the best option since it is full of antioxidants.

3. Prioritize seasonal foods

On Thanksgiving, there is so much to try on the table that it is tempting to have a bit of everything. To enjoy all your favorite seasonal foods you have to prioritize the foods you love the most and don’t normally get the chance to eat.

Put on your plate the foods you want most first and if they didn’t satiate your hunger completely, go for more afterwards.

4. Drink an after meal tea

After dinner, put the kettle on and make yourself and your guests a cup of tea. This might not be the first after meal drink on your mind, but certain teas like ginger, peppermint, dandelion and green tea are great to aid in digestion.

Plus, this is a pleasant way of spending time with your friends and family, after the big Thanksgiving feast.

5. Work up that appetite

Even though this is not a true eating tip, it is probably the most important one.

If you go a little too far on Thanksgiving, do an extra workout later or the next day. And you don’t have to hit the gym to burn calories. Instead, go for a walk with friends and family, or play outside with the kids!

What to Eat Before Your Run

Do you usually feel out of energy when you run? Before you lace up and get out there, it’s important to fuel your training with the perfect ingredients for optimal performance.

These simple tips will help you energize and get the most out of your workouts!

When to eat

What to eat before a run

When you begin your run, you shouldn’t feel neither hungry nor stuffed. In fact, eating before a run can cause cramping and not eating at all can lead to low energy levels while working out.

In general, after eating a big meal, you should wait 2 to 4 hours before running, and 30 minutes to 2 hours, if you just had a small snack. This is approximately the amount of time needed to fully digest your food.

 

What to eat before a run

What to eat before a run

There’s no ideal meal you should eat before hitting the road. Whether you’re a beginner or an athlete, you should always trial what works best for you. But when it comes to fueling up for a run, carbs are perfect allies.

For energy boosting meals before a run, choose something:

  • high in carbohydrates
  • that includes fluids
  • lower in fat, fiber, and protein
  • that has a reasonably high glycemic index score (GI). High-GI foods are absorbed faster and less strain is placed on the gut.

It might sound complicated, but it isn’t. Check out the chart below to learn what you can eat before get out of the door:

  • 2 hours before: 300- to 400-calorie meal containing carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Examples: cooked quinoa and grilled chicken; peanut butter and jelly sandwich; greek yogurt with fruit, nuts, and granola; or a cheese and veggie omelet with toast.
  • 1 hour before: 150-calorie snack containing easily digestible carbs and a little protein. Examples: whole wheat toast with nut butter; banana and small handful of cashews; or a small bowl of cereal.
  • 15 to 30 minutes before: small serving of easily digestible carbs. Examples: half a banana; applesauce; or raisins.

 

Which foods should be avoided

In addition to high-carb meals, you should always eat familiar foods, that you tolerate well and don’t feel too ‘heavy’ in your stomach.

Therefore, you must avoid rich, very fatty, spicy, or high-fiber foods, alcohol and drinking too much caffeine. These foods are well known causes of gastrointestinal distresses such as diarrhea and bowel upsets.

Want to add more tips to the list? Share your experience and comments below.

Join a CSA and up your nutritional game with local produce

Eating right can be a challenge.  Even if you’re doing a pretty good job of watching your calories and focusing on the good stuff, certain parts of an optimal running diet — especially vegetables — can fall through the cracks.

Some of us just aren’t big veggie fans to begin with and others are just caught in the same old frozen rut (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, repeat).  Either way, it can be tough to keep vegetables interesting when you’re always cooking up the same old stuff.

Joining a CSA can help you turn the day’s veggies from a so-so side dish into the highlight of your meal.  When you’re part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), you basically buy a “share” of one or more local farms.  You pay a weekly or monthly fee and as they harvest their crops,  you get an allotted amount of super-fresh, seasonally-appropriate produce, often dropped right on your doorstep.

CSAs will often deal in vegetables and other goodies that you might not even think of at the grocery store — think beets, gourds, or okra.  When great recipes and meal ideas are just a Google search away, having a variety of starter ingredients showing up in your kitchen on a regular basis can really expand your culinary horizons.

Mastering your recovery

You train hard.  But when it comes to getting stronger and faster, it turns out that  how you go about recovering after workouts can be just as important as the work you invest in the first place.  Recovering smart can help you get the most out of your training, squeezing more strength and speed out of every mile you log.

Here are four ways to recover (smarter).

Eat right.  Especially when a big motivator for a lot of runners is losing weight, it can be tempting to look at nutrition mainly in terms of calories taken in and calories burned off.  But how much you eat is only part of the equation.  What you eat is really the name of the game.  Making solid nutrition a priority can be the difference between being a weekend warrior and a serious high-performing athlete.  “Fueling Up: What to Eat Before, During, and After a Run” is a post we published last year that lays out some very specific foods you can eat  throughout your day to give your body what it needs to (A) perform well during your run and (B) rebuild properly afterwards.  The short version? Carbs before, protein after.

Ease in.  Motivational quotes and inspirational sayings aside, your body really doesn’t care to “hit the ground running.”  Warming up slowly and following a steady build-up in intensity will reduce shock on your body, allowing your muscles to focus on getting productively stronger rather than simply recovering from the unexpectedly intense paces you just put them through.  “Post-Run Recovery Tips” on runningtimes.com gives some good strategies for easing in, including building up to your workout pace over 4 to 5 minutes and mixing up workouts between (for example) hilly and flat runs to avoid over-stressing the same muscles again and again.

Cool down.  You just worked your tail off, blew the doors off of your last run, and generally nailed your workout — surely you’ve earned a flop down onto the couch to catch your breath, right? No matter how much you may have earned it, resist the urge.  Just like your body doesn’t like going from 0 to 60 at a moment’s notice, it doesn’t like slamming on the brakes like that, either.  There’s a reason your Bluefin programs include a cooldown at the end of each workout.  “5 Ways to Cool Down After a Workout” from MensFitness.com stresses the importance of gradually tapering off your workout and stretching out afterwards, pointing out that screeching to a halt after intense training can lead to muscle cramps and big fluctuations in blood pressure.  A few minutes of walking and a good solid stretch can make all the difference.

Sleep well.  One of the most counterproductive things you can do is try to train while depriving yourself of sleep.  Those solid hours of shuteye are not only when your body reenergizes to prepare for the day ahead, but it’s also when it does a lot of the basic recovery work needed to rebuild tired muscles after a hard workout.  As much as it might up your street-cred at the office, charging along on no sleep with a big mug full of coffee isn’t hero stuff — it’s hurting your training.  How Running Affects Sleep (and Vice Versa) from Running Research News  has some very detailed information about the science behind sleep for runners that more than makes the case for getting a good night’s rest.  The good news is that getting enough exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve sleep quality, so running hard and sleeping well are absolutely compatible and even complementary.

Managing your recovery is critical to anyone who wants to take their running performance to the next level.  What do you do to bounce back between runs?

Four game-changing superfoods you should try this weekend

The more you focus on being fit and improving your performance, the more you start to pick up on how certain foods make you feel.  The good stuff tastes better and makes you feel like a million bucks.  The bad stuff drags you down and makes you feel like somebody put sugar in your gas tank.  Either way, the point is that being in tune with your body means giving it the right fuel.

Here are four game-changing superfoods that can help you take your performance to a whole new level.

Cruciferous vegetables.  Yesterday we posted on our Facebook wall an article from WebMD about the impressive benefits of cruciferous vegetables (a fancy term for veggies in the cabbage family — think broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and, you know…cabbage).  It’s definitely worth clicking through for the full article but basically eating cruciferous vegetables is a great way to cut your risk of cancer and take in a ton of  vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid.

How to make it happen?  As a general rule, the less you cook veggies like these, the better they’ll be.  Mushy broccoli can turn your stomach, but the stuff looks a lot more appealing when it’s next to some (also awesome) cauliflower and celery on a veggie tray.  Cook sparingly or try them raw to get your daily fill.     

Antioxidants.  Your body uses antioxidants to help you recover — whether that’s from a long hard run or from an injury or illness.  As this post from The Running Bug points out, you don’t need to overdo it with antioxidants (especially in the form of supplements), but it is good to work them into your daily diet as a runner.

How to make it happen?  Grapes, berries, and nuts are all antioxidant-rich foods that can be easily worked into your day, one snack baggie at a time.  Reach for these instead of junkier foods when you are looking to kill a little hunger between meals and feel the benefits after your next hard workout.

Chia seeds.  When Fitbie published their list of superfoods for endurance runners, chia seeds made the cut.  A tough-to-beat combination of carbs, protein, fiber, and omega-3s make chia seeds an optimal food for runners.  It’s a shame that most of us know them best for growing hilarious green hair on ceramic heads (ch-ch-ch-chia!).

How to make it happen?  You can toss a handful of chia seeds into pretty much anything — think stews, smoothies, cold drinks, you name it.  Mix them in and knock it back.  There isn’t a whole lot of taste, but they can really leave you feeling tremendous.

Chocolate milk.  You may have been seeing more of this lately as chocolate milk is becoming increasingly popular as a post-workout recovery drink.  This post from Fitness points out some of the benefits of cooling down after training with a glass of chocolate milk, which include rehydrating and providing a ton of carbohydrates and protein.  The bottom line is that it’s more natural than a sports drink and more substantive than water alone.

How to make it happen?  This is an easy one — it’s chocolate milk!  Unleash your inner kid and have a glass.  You probably don’t want to down a bunch immediately after working out but let yourself cool down and indulge.  For most of us, nonfat is the way to go.

We hope you saw something on this list worth trying.  You really will be amazed at how much the right fuel can impact your performance whether you’re training or just going about your day.  Let us know if you have any go-to foods that leave you feeling like you could take on the world!


Optimal Nutrition for Runners

Last week we posted about some more natural, do-it-yourself approaches to traditional energy bars and sports drinks.  Deana, one of our readers, took the issue a step further, posing the following question in the comments.

“As I am just running 3-4 miles a few times a week I haven’t had to deal with fueling yet. However I start my 1/2 marathon training in July and will have to figure something out. Given all the additives and high calories I would like to work my plan for fueling with whole foods. But I have a question – is there an ideal set of carbs/calories/etc as running fuel? Or a ratio of these depending on your estimated calorie burn or miles?”

Deana is just getting ready to start her half marathon training, but as you can see she’s already realized something very important — as you begin to tackle longer distances, giving your body the right fuel becomes critical.  You might be able to fake your way through a 5k with sub-par nutrition (particularly if you’re in shape), but as you reach 10k and beyond, putting the right gas in the tank is key.  We also like the instinct to reach for natural, whole foods rather than processed, pre-packaged ones.  Anyway…on to the questions at hand!

What solid, whole foods are best before a run?

Back in September, we posted about the best foods to eat before, during, and after a run.  As far as pre-run nutrition was concered, we reccomended a light snack of energy-rich foods like bread, pasta, fruits, veggies and granola.

Is there an ideal ratio between calories, carbs, protein, etc?

You may have heard 3:1 cited as the optimum ratio between carbohydrates and protein for runners (meaning three ounces of carbs for every one ounce of protein or 75% carbs to 25% protein).  This thinking was explained in a recent USDA study called Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which in fact refers to a ratio of 3:1:1 — acknowledging your body’s need for healthy fats as well, though realistically if you have a relatively normal diet you are likely getting the fats you need throughout the day.  (As for calories, we’ll get to that in a bit.)

The best thing you can do to fuel your body properly is to follow these guidelines not just an hour before you train, but all throughout the day.  Strive to maintain that balance of approximately 75% carbs to 25% protein in each meal you eat and your body shouldn’t feel the need for anything special right before your workout.  (If you do need a boost, those links at the beginning of this post provide some healthy, effective ideas.)

So where should I get my carbs?

When it comes to nutrition, not all carbs are the same.  You’ll want to avoid “bad” carbohydrates like those found in white bread, white rice, and many pastas.  Heavily processed carbohydrates have typically been stripped of their fiber and other nutrients, leaving empty calories behind.  So where can you get the good stuff?

Whole grains (oatmeal, granola, brown rice)

Fresh fruits (bananas, oranges, blueberries)

Vegetables (mixed greens, stir-fry, pretty much anything you enjoy)

And protein?

Poultry (light meat, baked is best)

Fish (grilled or baked)

Nuts and beans (ideal plant-based proteins)

This is obviously a pretty broad overview of carbs and protein, but it’s just what you need to begin thinking about that 3:1 ratio in a way that fits into your real life.  If in general you’re getting a well-balanced diet of the above, heavier on carbs and lighter on protein, you’ll be firing on all cylinders when it comes time to work out.

Now one last piece to tackle…

How many extra calories do I need?

When you think about fueling up for a workout, you should definitely be thinking in terms of the stuff we’ve talked about above, not just focusing on upping your calorie intake.  Unless you are a pretty advanced athlete in excellent shape and with little fat to burn, you probably don’t need to load up with calories to get through a workout.  Just like we said with fat intake, most of us will typically eat enough calories during the course of the day to fuel the average workout, especially if your runs are remaining in the neighborhood of an hour in length.  Rather than thinking about loading up on calories, focus on simply filling your belly about an hour before your run and getting those healthy carbs and proteins in your system throughout the day.  If you are feeling hungry during or after a run, your body is almost certainly craving healthy carbs or protein — not just additional calories.  Examine your diet and see what’s lacking.

Thanks, Deana, for the great question and for sharing your training progress with us.  Be sure to let us know how you’re doing with your half marathon work!

Three and a half (Awesome) alternative energy bars you can try today

On Monday, we talked about some natural, practical alternatives to traditional sports drinks.  Today we have some similar alternatives to those energy bars that are so tempting for grab-and-go nutrition.  If you look at the ingredient labels (aside from seeing lots of things we can’t pronounce), you’ll notice a lot of the times that the fat and calorie content is on par with the unhealthiest candybar on the shelf.  Here are some simple ways to get the benefits of a high-energy snack while avoiding the junk.

Snack smart.  Your snack doesn’t have to be shaped like a bar to provide solid, convenient energy.  Think ahead and grab some easy, self-contained fruits like bananas or apples, which are pretty much as convenient as an energy bar anyway.  Less handy but just as good are a container of diced pineapples or grapes.  These foods can leave your feeling lighter on your feet than an energy bar would.

Bake your own.  If you really like the idea of energy bars, you can save yourself some money and avoid a lot of extra additives by making them yourself.  There are TONS of recipes out there, so you should be able to find something online that meets your tastes.  Here’s one from practicalhacks.com, but there are plenty of different approaches to try.  On the whole, they tend to be pretty easy to make.

Mix something up.  If baking isn’t your thing and you just want to whip up something quickly, making your own high-energy trail mix is a great alternative.  Choose your favorite items and mix them up in a bag.  That’s all there is to it.  Some solid ingredients to consider are nuts, cranberries, almonds, raisins, and even chocolate chips for a sweet bonus (darker is healthier).

Skip it.  Unless you’re doing serious endurance work, chances are that you don’t really need a concentrated dose of energy before a workout (assuming you are eating properly otherwise).  Keep in mind, depending on your training goals, that there are usually a lot of calories packed into high-energy snacks — that’s kind of the point.  So unless you are training hard enough to work off the extra intake, you might want to consider focusing on mealtime as your main source of both calories and nutrition.

Three and a half awesome (alternative) sports drinks you can try today

In the past, we’ve always recommended good-old-fashioned water as the best way to stay hydrated throughout the day or during a workout.  Of course we also realize that sometimes you want a little extra kick, not to mention some additional vitamins and electrolytes your body can use to keep firing on all cylinders.  More and more, athletes are passing on the traditional bottled sports drinks in favor of more natural alternatives, skipping the artificial flavors (and neon coloring) along the way.

Here are three (and a half) easy ways to do exactly that.

Try coconut water.  In some circles, coconut water is being passed around as the latest superdrink — a high-potassium, low-sodium way to replace electrolytes and improve performance.  Realistically, it’s probably more on par with plain water in terms of hydration benefits, but if you like the taste and feel good about drinking it, by all means give it a try.  It’s a little pricy to be downing all day long, but makes a good post-workout treat or warm-up drink to mix things up a little.

DIY brewing.  About as easily as you’d make a pitcher of iced tea, you can brew up your own Gator/Power-ade replacement, avoiding the high sugar content and hard-to-pronounce ingredients.  Here’s a quick, natural recipe that starts with water, green tea, coconut water, or another base and adds salt for electrolytes and fruit for flavor.  This is one you can adjust for large or small quantities depending on what you need.

Quick mix.  For a faster, simpler version of the brewing approach above, you can actually just mix up a bottle, chill in the fridge, and be ready for action.  There are some good instructions over at LIVESTRONG.com that pretty much require you to mix and drink.

Even quicker mix.  Okay, this one barely counts as a sports drink, but it’s perfect if you’re in a hurry and water just isn’t doing it for you on a given day.  Try just slicing up (or dropping in whole) a few pieces of your favorite fresh summer fruit into your water bottle to add some flavor and vitamins.  It’s an unbelievably easy way to add some variety to your hydration without worrying too much about it.

Eat Smart: BBQ for Runners

A great day for a barbecue is usually a great day for a run, too, right? Yet somehow it doesn’t seem like very many of us are getting up from the picnic table feeling energized and excited about a workout.

It probably has something to do with the tendency to stuff ourselves with all manner of summertime goodies that leave us feeling more like relaxing by the fire than lacing up running shoes. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way! Check out some delicious BBQ alternatives to the usual hot dog and hamburger fare that won’t weigh you down or wreck your diet for the week.

Less turf, more surf. Whether you are making steaks, kabobs, or burgers, you can usually get away with swapping beef out for some much-more-healthful seafood. Try grilled fish instead of beef steak, chicken on your kabobs, or salmon paddies on that burger bun. You still get to enjoy a traditional approach to barbecue with something much lighter and easier on your system (maybe even tastier, too).

Get creative with corn.. Corn is good for you. Tons of salt and a personal stick of butter to roll it in…not so much. Try spicing up your corn with seasoning and tossing it on the grill. It’s delicious and you can pretty much enjoy as much as you want without feeling like a slug.

Choose your kabob. You can put pretty much anything on a kabob, but steak is usually a mainstay. Try going heavy on the veggies and light on the meat, maybe even swapping in some chicken instead of beef. And seriously…eat the veggies and mushrooms. They aren’t decoration!

Eat more chicken.. Chicken is great on the grill, but it pretty often takes a back seat to other (heavier) barbecue meats. Get your meat fix with some grilled chicken and one of your friends’ “top secret” sauce recipes. A great sauce can even steal the spotlight from a decent burger.

Go veggie. If you really want to go for it, consider passing on the meat altogether (though in some circles, this might require you to endure some passionate jeering from BBQ aficionados). Vegetables, pasta dishes, salads, and even more creative options like grilled pizza can leave you satisfied and feeling like a million bucks.

We hope some of these ideas will help you feel good about BBQ season and squeeze in a workout or two that might have otherwise been claimed by one hamburger too many. And if anybody gives you a hard time about your fitness-minded selections, consider inviting them out for a run later. Enjoy!

5 ways to stay hydrated (that you may not have considered)

If ever there’s a topic that we hit again and again on this blog, it’s hydration. It’s so important, yet so easy to overlook. We’ll keep the nagging to a minimum, but if you’re looking to up your water intake throughout the day, here are five easy ways to do it.

Salads. A big meal during the day means your body needs to divert both energy and hydration to support digestion. Salads flip that equation around by keeping you light on your feet but also delivering lots of water at the same time. Salad standbys like lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots are all packed with water.

Fruit. Fruit is another-water rich food that can fill your belly and also help you stay hydrated. Apples, blueberries, and watermelons are all great summer fruits that give you a snack you can feel good about.

Smoothies. Smoothies are a treat to drink and it’s easy to pack all sorts of good fruits and veggies inside. They are substantial enough to be enjoyable and satisfying, but healthy enough that you shouldn’t feel like a slug after you’re done. Crushed ice will really increase the water content of the drink. Speaking of which…

Ice. If you have a tendency towards mindless snacking, munching on ice chips can be a great way to avoid eating a ton of junky calories without thinking about it. As an added bonus, it’s water!

Water+. Generally, plain old water is the best thing you can drink throughout the day to stay hydrated, but for some of us getting enough can feel like a chore. If you’re finding glass after glass of water to be less than satisfying, try squeezing in a lemon or adding pretty much any other fruit that strikes your fancy. Experiment with orange slices, strawberries, or some apples.