Diet & Nutrition

  • 10 Weekend Meal Planning Recipes to Prep for the Week Ahead

    cook-366875_1280Man - and woman - cannot live on protein bars and shakes alone. But planning, shopping for and cooking healthy meals can be a challenge when work, the workout of the day, and more crowd the Monday through Friday calendar.

    To help you out, here are 10 meal ideas that will do double, or even triple, duty when you store leftovers in the fridge or freezer and repurpose recipes on busy nights for later in the week and beyond.

    Egg Muffins

    • 8 to 12 eggs
    • Diced onion
    • Diced bell pepper
    • Other vegetables, chopped
    • Olive oil
    • Leftover bacon, ham or sausage, cooked
    • Salt, pepper and other seasonings to taste

    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups. Heat the oil in a pan and lightly sauté the vegetables. Whisk together the eggs in a separate bowl and stir in the sautéed vegetables and meat. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full and bake the muffins for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

    These muffins can be stored in the refrigerator and are a tasty high-protein treat any time of the day. And, even better, you can use any veggies or cooked meat you happen to have on hand. You can also add a little coconut milk to the egg mixture if you’d like.

    For more variations on this versatile idea, check out this page atPaleoGrubs.com.

    Smoked Salmon Omelet

    • 6 eggs
    • 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
    • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
    • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
    • 6 ounces smoked sockeye salmon, flaked
    • ½ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
    • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil

    Preheat your oven’s broiler. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the herbs, salmon and Gruyere. Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and cook the egg mixture for two minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about eight minutes more, or until the eggs are almost set. Sprinkle the omelet with Parmesan and put the skillet under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, or until it is lightly brown.

    This large omelet can be cut into individual servings and frozen on a baking sheet until the servings are just solid. Then, store each serving in a freezer-safe container or wrap. Frozen portions should thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours before being microwaved on high for a couple of minutes until they are warmed thoroughly.

    The same basic cooking, freezing, storage and reheating technique can be used for many other omelets with a variety of fillings that suit your diet and taste. For example, you can develop a dairy-free omelet if you don’t eat cheese. Protein-rich omelets can also do triple duty as breakfast, lunch or dinner.

    Lentil and Couscous Veggie Burgers

    • 6 ounces dried red lentils, cooked according to package directions
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little more for brushing
    • One onion, minced
    • One red bell pepper, seeded and minced
    • One clove garlic, minced
    • ½ cup dried currants, rehydrated in water
    • 1 cup whole-wheat couscous, cooked
    • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
    • Salt and pepper
    • 2 eggs, beaten

    Drain the cooked lentils and set them aside to cool. Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion and red pepper, stirring often, until they are tender. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute more before removing the skillet from the stove. Drain the currants and stir them into the onion mixture before transferring the contents of the skillet to a large bowl to cool.

    Once the onion mixture is cool, add the lentils, cooked couscous and sunflower seeds. Use your hands to combine the ingredients and season the mix to taste with salt and pepper. Stir the beaten eggs into the lentil mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

    When you’re ready to cook the patties, turn on your oven’s broiler and let it heat. Divide and shape the lentil mixture into 8 patties and brush both sides with olive oil. Broil patties, about 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly brown. Once cooled, individual patties can be wrapped in freezer wrap, stored in an airtight bag or container and frozen. Frozen patties can be thawed in the refrigerator and reheated in the microwave, on high, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through.

    Brown Rice

    • brown-rice-699836_12802 cups brown rice
    • 4 cups water

    Heat the rice and water over medium high heat in a saucepan. You can also substitute broth for the water to give the rice a flavor boost. Once the rice and water come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until the liquid is just absorbed. Spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool it completely. It can then be frozen on the baking sheet.

    After the rice is frozen, divide it into your desired serving sizes and store it in freezer-safe bags or containers. To reheat, allow the rice to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before transferring it to a microwave-safe bowl, adding a little water and warming it up in the microwave, a minute at a time, until it is heated through.

    With a little experimenting, the same basic cooking, freezing and reheating method can be used for many healthy grains, which can then be eaten as a side dish or combined with proteins, vegetables and flavorings to suit your taste and mood.

    Smoked Salmon Omelet, Veggie Burger and Brown Rice recipes adapted fromMake-Ahead Meals Made Healthy: Exceptionally Delicious and Nutritious Freezer-Friendly Recipes You Can Prepare in Advance and Enjoy.

    Red Lentil Dal

    • 2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked through
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 cup onion, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
    • 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon red curry powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon turmeric
    • 1 can petite diced tomatoes in juice (14.5 ounce)
    • 4 cups water

    Soak the lentils for 20 minutes. While the lentils soak, heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Once oil is heated, add onions and cook, stirring until they are translucent. Stir in the ginger, garlic and spices and cook, while stirring, for about a minute.

    Add the tomatoes and juice, stirring the bottom of the pot to scrape up any browned bits. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot, with 4 cups of fresh water. Simmer the mixture until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

    Allow the dal to cool, divide it into portions in freezer-safe containers and chill the servings in the refrigerator before freezing. To reheat, allow the dal to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating in a saucepan on the stove.

    Dal, the Hindi word for a dish consisting of cooked lentils and spices, can be served over brown rice. After adding some vegetable broth or extra water before reheating, you might also enjoy it as a hearty lentil soup.

    Garlicky Italian Chicken Breasts

    • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
    • ¼ cup white wine, sherry or chicken broth
    • ¼ cup olive oil
    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ¼ teaspoon pepper
    • 4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

    Mix all the ingredients except for the chicken. If cooking all the chicken breasts that day, use the mixture to marinate the chicken for 2 to 8 hours in the refrigerator before grilling the meat over a hot fire, turning once and cooking until chicken is done.

    If you want to save some chicken breasts for later, freeze immediately after combining the chicken and marinade, storing the chicken and marinade in a freezer bag. A day or two before you are ready to cook the chicken, thaw it and the marinade in the refrigerator before grilling.

    These chicken breasts make a flavorful main dish or a great protein boost for salads. Try mixing and matching spices and herbs to achieve different flavor combinations.

    Recipes for Dal and Garlicky Italian Chicken Breasts adapted from Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook.

    Crispy Roast Chicken

    • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
    • ½ teaspoon vegetable oil
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon pepper
    • 1 whole chicken (3 ½ to 4 ½ pounds), giblets removed

    Combine the salt and oil, then stir in the baking powder and pepper until all ingredients are well combined. Use paper towels to pat the chicken dry before using your fingers to carefully loosen the skin over the breast and thighs. Use a metal skewer or the tip of a small knife to poke 15 to 20 holes in the fat deposits on top of the breasts and thighs (poking small holes through the chicken skin.) Rub the other combined ingredients evenly over the surface of the chicken.

    Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wingtips in before setting the chicken, breast side up, on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate the chicken, uncovered, for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. To roast, adjust your oven rack to the middle position, put in an oven-proof skillet and heat to 450 degrees. Carefully place the chicken, without its rack from the refrigerator, to the heated skillet in the oven and roast the bird for 25 to 35 minutes.

    Turn off the oven and leave the chicken in for about 25 to 35 minutes more, until a meat thermometer indicates the breasts have reached 160 degrees and the thighs are at 175 degrees. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.

    This recipe allows you to prep the chicken one night and roast it on the next. Poking the fat deposits ensures a crispy skin and has the added advantage of allowing the fat to drain from the chicken as it renders in the hot oven. A perfect weekend recipe, this makes for a traditional Sunday dinner main dish while leftovers make a great addition to salads or healthy veggie mixes later in the week.

    Crispy Roast Chicken adapted from The Make-Ahead Cook: How to Cook Less and Still Eat Well Every Night of the Week.

    Sweet Potatoes

    6334187263_dd65f4fdba_bWhile you’re roasting chicken, make your oven do double duty by baking a few sweet potatoes and storing them in the refrigerator.  You can season and eat baked sweet potatoes as is or add a little coconut milk, lemon juice and spices before mashing them. You can even refill potato skins with seasoned and mashed sweet potatoes before baking them again to transform them into a twice-baked treat.

    For more ideas on how to use sweet potatoes, check out this page from Overland Park CrossFit.

    Pulled Pork

    • 4-5 pounds pork butt roast
    • 2 yellow onions, sliced
    • One head garlic, separated and peeled (optional)
    • 3 tablespoons chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon coriander
    • 2 teaspoons cumin
    • 2 teaspoons onion powder
    • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
    • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
    • 2 teaspoons sea salt

    Trim the fat from the roast and, if desired, place garlic cloves in small slits cut in the meat. Mix all the dry ingredients together and rub over the meat, using all the spice mixture. Place one sliced onion in a layer on the bottom of your slow cooker and set the meat on top. Layer the other sliced onion on top. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours, turn down to low, and cook for another 3 to 4 hours until the meat falls apart when shredded with two forks.

    This pulled pork makes an excellent sandwich filling or can be the basis for a down-home barbeque salad among many other uses.

    Adapted from Everyday Paleo.

    Mexican Chicken

    • One 28-ounce package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    • One package taco seasoning (or use a few tablespoons of the same spice mix used for the pulled pork)
    • One 24-ounce jar of salsa

    Coat the chicken pieces with a tablespoon (or more, to taste) of the seasoning mix and place chicken in a slow cooker. Top with the salsa, cover and cook on low for 4 to 4 ½ hours. Remove the chicken and shred with two forks. Taste and add more seasoning mix if desired. Return chicken to slow cooker and cook on low for 30 minutes.

    This chicken, which freezes well, makes great tacos, burritos and taco salads. Adding a beans and some chicken broth transforms it into a hearty and spicy chicken soup, too.

    Adapted from Pillsbury.

    What are your favorite weekend recipes that help you eat healthy all week?

    Images: Pixabay, Pixabay, Flickr

  • 10 Protein Shake Recipes That Won’t Make You Want to Hurl

    kc1I’m probably sounding like a broken record here, but protein plays a huge role in your ability to recover from a workout. Studies frequently show that protein is necessary for both building and maintaining muscle, with daily recommendations from CrossFit HQ suggesting that you consume roughly 30% of your daily calories in the form of protein (or, between ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight).

    Clearly, it’s important to stay on top of your protein intake, and a great way to do that is through the use of supplemental protein powders. Whey protein (one of the most common forms of protein powder) has been shown to have an exceptionally effective impact post-workout.

    The thing is, protein supplements are all about giving you an edge in your workout or in your recovery.

    They’re all about performance.

    They don’t necessarily cater to a refined palate.

    It’s true, supplement companies aren’t frequently in the “taste good” business. Luckily for you, there are tons of awesome ways to make your protein shake taste great. If you don’t have a great-tasting protein bar on hand, the following ten recipes will make your post-workout shake a joy for your taste buds.

    1. Berry Breeze Protein Shake

    One of the best ways to add flavor to the distasteful in a healthy way is to use fruit. Berries are particularly healthy, from their abundant amounts of antioxidants (blueberries especially), to their high fiber content (raspberries have some of the highest fiber content out of all fruits) and their massive varieties of vitamins and minerals. They’re also some of the lowest glycemic index fruits around for all you Paleo-eating cavemen out there.

    And, as if all that wasn’t enough, they taste great!

    Take advantage of the plethora of berries out there in a protein shake or smoothie. Here’s a great recipe with tons of room for personalizing to your own tastes:

    Ingredients:

     

      • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 cup milk or water
      • 1 cup mixed berries (choose from blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)

    2. Chocolate-Banana Protein Shake

    Love chocolate? Love bananas? Then you’ll definitely love this protein-packed combo. Bananas are renowned for their potassium (important for heart and muscle function), as well as for being great sources of vitamin C and fiber.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
      • 1 large banana
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 ½ cups milk or water

    3. Spiced Green Tea Protein Smoothie

    Green tea is known for its ability to provide energy, but did you know that it also helps lower blood pressure and manage blood sugar? Combine that with spices like cinnamon (which helps facilitate your metabolism) and you’ve got a smoothie that gives you the protein needed to recover from a workout, while still keeping your healthy and energized.

    A quick note about pears… Much of the nutrients are found in the skin, so don’t peel your pear for the best nutritional value.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
      • ¾ cup of green tea, chilled
      • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 teaspoon honey
      • 1 small pear, cut into pieces (skin on)
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 cup milk or water

    Because of the inclusion of green tea, this one will take a little longer to prepare (thanks to the extra brewing and chilling steps. But trust me, the taste is worth it. All it takes is a little advance planning to enjoy this tasty treat.

    4. Leafy Greens Protein Shake

    kc2We all know green veggies are fantastic for your health, so why not kill two birds with one stone and add them to your protein shake?

    Of course, lettuce and kale and broccoli aren’t exactly known for their great taste. Here’s a way to get the best of both worlds.

    Ingredients

     

      • ½ cup chopped kale
      • ½ cup diced broccoli
      • 1 scoop protein powder (preferably vanilla)
      • ½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
      • 1 teaspoon honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • 1 cup milk or water

    5. Citrus Splash Protein Shake

    Oranges and mangos are known for their high vitamin C content, and their citrusy flavor is just delightful. It’s also a powerful taste, helping to overcome the flavor of less-than-appetizing protein powders.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
      • 1 orange, peeled and sliced
      • 1 mango, peeled and sliced
      • 1 cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes

    6. Nutty Banana Protein Shake

    Nuts are great sources of healthy fats and protein, both of which are fantastic for helping lower your blood pressure, improve your overall heart health, and even boost your brain function. They’re also Paleo-approved, and when added to a protein shake, give you a deliciously nutritious combo.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
      • 1 cup chopped nuts (choose from walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and pecans)
      • 1 large banana
      • 1 ½ cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 teaspoon honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

    If you have a food processor, run the nuts through for 30 seconds first. If not, chop them by hand as small as you can. Extra servings of nuts can be chopped ahead of time and stored in your freezer for up to three months.

    7. The “Classic” Protein Smoothie

    This “classic” smoothie is the simple combination of strawberries and bananas. Together, these fruits pack a powerful punch of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Blend them together with your favorite protein powder supplement, and you’ve got a fantastic combination that’s packed with great taste.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop protein powder
      • 1 cup strawberries (halved)
      • 1 large banana
      • 1 ½ cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes

    Because this shake falls a bit higher on the glycemic index, save it for a post-workout treat when your muscles are primed and ready to use as much of the incoming sugars as possible.

    8. Summer Sun Protein Smoothie

    kc3In homage to the warmer weather, give your protein shake or smoothie a distinct summer flair by grabbing some watermelon and grapefruit. Watermelon, aside from its great taste and ample amounts of vitamin C, is also high in the amino acid citrulline, which helps facilitate blood flow, and, in some cases, has been shown to block accumulation of fat in fat cells.

    Grapefruit is also crazy high in vitamin C, and is very similar in nutritional content to oranges. There’s a reason dieters have sweared by grapefruit for years!

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
      • ¾ cup watermelon, chopped
      • ¾ cup grapefruit, sliced
      • 1 cup water
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 teaspoon honey

    9. Taste of the Orchard Protein Shake

    Do you ever get a craving for apples? Maybe you’ve been to an apple orchard, maybe not - but it really is a unique experience. Apples picked straight off the tree have their own “flavor,” you could say - and now, you can recreate that flavor in your protein shake.

    Apples, like pears, contain many of their nutrients in the skin, so don’t peel them if you want the best effects - like their major impact on lowering blood cholesterol and improving heart health.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop protein powder
      • 1 ½ medium-large apples, cored and sliced
      • 2 teaspoons honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes

    10. Tropical Island Protein Shake

    People talk a lot about retreating to their own tropical island, calling up the image of a paradise far away from civilization. And while that may not be within your reach (if it was, you’d probably already be there!), you can get that same feeling by blending your protein shake with the right combination of fruits.

    Pineapples, a key ingredient in this recipe, are packed with vitamin C, but also a helpful little mineral called manganese. This micronutrient has a big impact on bone health and structure - traits normally only credited to calcium. Speaking of which, manganese also helps boost absorption of calcium, so if you’re looking for a bone-strengthening x-factor, pineapples are the surprise solution.

    Ingredients

     

      • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
      • ½ cup pineapple, chopped
      • ½ medium orange, peeled and sliced
      • ½ medium mango, peeled and sliced
      • ¼ berries of your choice
      • ½ medium banana
      • 1 ½ cups milk or water
      • 1 tablespoon coconut milk
      • 1 teaspoon honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • 2 ice cubes

    There you have it - ten delicious recipes to make your protein shake or smoothie appetizing. Keep in mind, though, that experimentation is absolutely encouraged! These recipes are very customizable, so try varying the amount of water or milk you include for texture, choose your favorite flavor and brand of protein powder, and mix and match different fruits within the same recipe.

    Explore your options. Try each of these recipes, tweak them, play with them, and figure out what you enjoy the most. There’s no one-size-fits-all here. Find your favorites and make the most of them.

    Taking in adequate protein is a critical part of your post-workout recovery. Don’t let bland-tasting protein powders keep you from getting what you need. Take advantage of these recipes and work towards discovering the one that’s right for you.

    Let us know below - what are your favorite shake and smoothie recipes for post-workout nutrition? We’d love to hear from you!

     

    Images: Flickr, Flickr, Flickr

  • Straight Talk on Supplements: Separating the BS From the Beneficial

    kc1

    Supplements are a massive, billion-dollar industry that’s constantly growing. And for good reason - supplements can help push you past plateaus in your workouts, as well as keep you focused and alert when you’re having an off day.

    The thing is… there’s so much out there! There are so many brands, so many flavors, so many types, so many sizes, and so many recommendations. How can you tell what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s straight up BS when it comes to supplements?

    That’s what I’m here for. I’ll help you cut through all the nonsense floating around out there on supplements and get you set up with recommendations on what’s really worth pursuing and what you should avoid at all costs.

    Because, let’s be real here - there are some supplements out there that you really should avoid.

    So Much Variety

    For starters, let’s run down the list of the most notable fitness-related supplement categories:

    • Protein: Usually taken in the form of a powder, used often in shakes, smoothies or bars, protein will help your muscles recover faster post-workout.
    • Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs): Specific amino acids, often taken in capsule form (sometimes as a powder), that are used to provide focus and prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.
    • Beta-alanine: Another amino acid that helps reduce exercise-induced fatigue and improves your capacity for anaerobic exercise.
    • Creatine monohydrate: Typically taken in powder form and used to help produce ATP (your muscles’ energy source).
    • Glutamine: A common amino acid that transforms glucose into energy (generally taken in powder form).
    • Human growth hormone (HGH): Most often used medicinally with a purpose of helping to offset aging (comes in many forms).

    If you know a bit about supplements, it should be clear to you that one of these things is not like the others.

    kc2It’s human growth hormone. HGH has important medicinal uses, but its place as a casual workout/fitness supplement is definitely not advisable. There are simply too many potential side effects that come along with HGH supplements when there’s no medical need for them, including an increased risk of:

    • Carpal tunnel syndrome
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • In some instances, cancer

    Part of the reason for all of these negative side-effects is that non-medically prescribed HGH supplements aren’t regulated, so you don’t really know what you’re taking. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my supplements cancer-free, please and thank you.

    As for the other supplements on my earlier list, they all serve different, yet important, purposes. Protein powders are great for your post-workout nutrition, as protein is an essential ingredient for rebuilding your sore muscles in recovery. As mentioned in my article on pre- and post-workout nutrition, start with a daily protein intake of 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and increase up to 1.2-1.5 grams as needed, based on your personal physiology and exercise objectives.

    BCAAs, on the other hand, are commonly taken pre-workout, as they help promote focus and alertness, and also help prevent the breakdown of muscles. Amino acid supplements have been studied extensively in their effectiveness as pre-workout supplements, and the results consistently show a positive impact in terms of the long-term strength gains associated with being able to lift more.

    The other amino acid on our list, beta-alanine, has been extensively studied in more than 23 exercise tests and discovered to reduce exercise-induced fatigue by limiting the amount of the dipeptide carnosine that’s stored in the muscles. It’s best taken as a pre-workout supplement, with clinically effective doses ranging from 2.6 to 6.4 grams a day.

    Next up comes creatine monohydrate, a supplement that’s been the subject of lots of debate in the fitness industry. In supplement form, it’s been shown to have some undesirable side effects, such as muscle cramping and irregular heartbeats. The way I see it, if there’s one thing you need during a workout, it’s a reliable heartbeat!

    There’s also the argument made that, since you naturally produce small amounts of creatine and get it from your diet if you eat meat and fish, that supplementation is unnecessary (making your risks of the side effects described above unnecessary as well).

    kc3On the flip side, the side effects of creatine are less severe than those attributed to many other supplements, and it’s worth noting that these side effects haven’t yet been proven to be a direct result of taking supplemental creatine. At the same time, rigorous scientific studies suggest that the compound can be used effectively to build muscle, improve anaerobic endurance and reduce soreness from exercise.

    Clearly, no one knows for certain, so maybe just put supplemental creatine on the back-burner for now. Unless you have kidney disease (in that case, stay away!). For all other users, there’s minimal risk associated with a loading period of 20 grams per day for 5-7 days and a maintenance dose of 5 grams a day after that. Give it a try if you’re interested, but discontinue usage if you experience side effects that outweigh the supplement’s benefits.

    Finally, glutamine rounds out my list of main fitness supplements as a great post-workout complement to your protein powder. Your body’s natural glutamine stores are depleted from intense workouts, and research has shown glutamine supplements have beneficial effects post-workout when it comes to dealing with the stress of regular, prolonged exercise and boosting your immune system.

    So basically, you can recover from your workout more efficiently while fighting off sickness. How’s that for Double Awesomeness?

    That covers the general types of supplements you’ll want to use or avoid, but how do you know whether or not individual products are safe? How do you know they’re healthy? Tackling this tricky territory requires an informed approach.

    My Protein Shake Has What in it?

    I mentioned earlier that HGH supplements are unregulated, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that no fitness supplement is regulated by the FDA or other governmental body.

    Hmmm… Sounds sketchy, right?

    What this means is that you have to do your own “regulating.” And the biggest thing you need to watch out for are certain ingredients, usually called “filler ingredients.” Why? Because, well, they’re just taking up space - and they aren’t doing your body any favors in the process.

    Here are the major things to watch out for on the ingredients list of any supplement:

    • Hydrogenated oils: Look out for any oils labeled “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” These highly processed oils contribute to a number of heart problems, encourage strokes, block absorption of essential fatty acids, and mess with your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Definitely not something you want floating around in your protein shake.
    • Magnesium stearate: Magnesium stearate ends up in your supplements because it makes the ingredients easier to process through manufacturing equipment. Yup, even though “magnesium” is in the name, it has no nutrition value at all, and regular consumption of it has been shown to line your intestines with a film that can block your ability to absorb nutrients. Seems a bit counterintuitive to have something like that in a nutrition supplement, am I right?
    • Titanium dioxide: Titanium dioxide is a pigment used in many cosmetic products, but it’s been officially classified a “Group 2B Carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). So basically, it’s officially been cited as a cancer risk. That’s a pretty clear warning sign to avoid if you see it on the ingredients list of your supplements.

    Most of these filler ingredients end up in your supplements simply because they make processing easier and cheaper - not because they add nutritional value to your supplements. Protect yourself. While you don’t need to go whole-hog “100% natural” to benefit from proper supplementation, it is important to know what you’re putting into your body and why.

    Know Who to Trust

    I’ve covered the main ingredient warning signs (which you should take as bright flashing lights that scream “Run!”), but what about other signs that show a supplement’s quality?

    Just because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements doesn’t mean there aren’t others willing to tackle the job for them. In fact, there are a number of third-party supplement certification organizations. These organizations allow supplement producers to run their product through a number of tests that look for harmful ingredients - including fillers, like the big three I talked about above - as well as investigating the overall nutritional quality of the product.

    If a supplement passes the test, they get a seal for their product packaging to show who they’re certified by. There are a number of these companies, but some of the most trustworthy are:

    Check out any of their websites to see a full run-down of their testing process (like this quick rundown of Informed Choice’s program).

    Navigating the Supplement Waters

    Designing the right supplement routine can be a daunting task, but following these basic principles should help guide your way. Remember, you’ve only got one body - it’s up to you to do your due diligence to be sure you’re treating it properly. Always check ingredients lists, and keep an eye out for seals of approval from trusted nutrition supplement certifiers. Your health and your performance are worth it.

    What supplements do you use before, during and after your workouts? Share your favorites in the comments below!

     

    Images: Flickr, Flickr, Flickr

     

  • Your Complete Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition

    kc1

    Working out is hard. If you want the best results, you have to push yourself to limits you didn’t know you had, and strive to do better and better each time.

    It takes a toll on your body.

    That’s why it’s important to pair an awesome workout plan with an amazing nutrition plan. What you eat is always important, but when you’re hitting it hard in the gym, your nutrition plan before and after your workout might be the most important part of what you eat each day.

    From supplements to real food, from what to eat to when to eat, here’s your complete guide to pre- and post-workout nutrition.

    Timing is Everything

    When you eat goes beyond “before and after my workout.” The key term here is nutrient timing - the specific windows around your workout when you’ll get the most out of what you eat.

    This is important for two reasons:

    1. Fueling your body. You need energy and focus during a workout, and your muscles need to be able to withstand the exertion you place upon them.
    2. Helping your body recover. If you can’t recover from an intense workout, don’t expect to be able to push it hard the next time you’re in the gym.

    Nutrient timing has been debated by fitness professionals ad nauseum, and for good reason. It’s an incredibly important aspect of pre- and post-workout nutrition.

    kc2As they say: “timing is everything.”

    Your body is primed to make the most of the food you put in it at certain times before and after a workout. One commonly-suggested window for timing your pre- and post-workout meals is “one hour before and after a workout.”

    While that’s a good recommendation, let’s get more specific. If you eat smaller meals along with supplements around your workouts, studies indicate an optimal window of 3-4 hours. What does that mean?

    Let’s say you exercise after work and have your pre-workout meal at 5:00 PM. In this case, you’ll want to have your post-workout meal no later than 9:00 PM - four hours after your pre-workout meal. The 3-4 hour window falls from your pre-workout meal to post-workout meal.

    So, of course, the “one hour before and after a workout” window still works, but this larger window gives you more leeway and freedom around how you go about your pre- and post-workout meals. If your workout is only thirty minutes long, you’ve got tons of time before and after your workout. On the other hand, if you’re going for an hour or more, you’ll have to be more aware of the clock.

    If you tend to eat fewer, larger meals, that 3-4 hour window can increase to a 5-6 hour window. Let’s say you work out after a big lunch at 12:00 PM. In this instance, you could wait to eat again until 6:00 PM and still get the full benefit of your post-workout meal.

    Here are some more examples of how this optimal window looks in action:

    • You workout at 5:00 AM, so you eat a light breakfast at 4:00 AM and then a small post-workout meal at 8:00 AM (fitting into the 3-4 hour window)
    • You’ve scheduled a noon workout on a Saturday, so you have a big lunch at 10:30 AM, work out at noon, and then have another full meal again at 3:30 PM (5 hours later, fitting into the larger window for big meals)
    • You’re a night owl, and work out at 10:00 PM. You don’t want to eat huge meals before bed, so you have a quick carb-based snack at 9:30 PM, workout, and then grab a protein bar at 11:30 PM. Your meals work inside the 3-4 hour window as well - it’s not as if you have to wait four hours to have your post-workout meal if you don’t want to.

    The beauty of the 3-4 or 5-6 window is that you can plan around the kind of meal you’re having, not just around these recommended intervals. If you like to eat big before and after a workout, you’ve got more freedom in the way you can time these meals and still get the maximum benefit. Or, if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, smoothies and protein bars work great as smaller pre- and post-workout meals.

    Nutrient timing has been proven effective, allowing you to gain muscle and strength faster than just “winging it.” When you eat is important to ensure your body gets the most out of what you’re putting in it.

    Of course, timing isn’t everything (despite what the old saying claims), and that’s where the rest of this guide comes in. It’s time to talk about what to eat before and after your workout.

    Time to Get Energized!

    So what’s the pre-workout meal all about? It’s about energy. Eating before your workout should be entirely focused on fueling up and prepping your body to crush an awesome workout. This means you need a different meal and supplement plan pre-workout than you do post-workout.

    kc3The consensus seems to be that caffeine and amino acids are a necessity for improving energy and performance. Caffeine gets a bad rap, but it’s actually good for you in modest amounts. With many studies looking at the effects of caffeine on workout performance, the encouraging results of this research lends credence to the classic tip of having an espresso or two before a workout.

    Amino acids are another necessity, as they help prevent the breakdown of muscles during exercise. This lets you workout longer and, as a result, get more out of your workout.

    Studies on the pre-workout use of caffeine and amino acids show a 10% increase in participants’ aerobic capacity (the maximum amount of oxygen your body has access to during exercise).

    And that’s all pretty impressive, but what does it mean for you?

    An increase of 10% aerobic capacity helps you run farther and faster, and to lift heavier weights longer. That could mean burning an extra 200-300 calories per week from your cardio workouts alone. As an added bonus, on top of burning calories, this extra endurance can help you build muscle and get stronger faster.

    Rest and Recover

    So you’ve had your pre-workout meal, you’ve hit the gym, and worked as hard as you can - now it’s time for that sweet post-workout meal. The post-workout meal is all about recovery, helping you to reap the rewards from your past workout and to get your muscles ready for the next one.

    kc4In order to effectively recover from a workout, you need amino acids and healthy carbs. But you also need the “p” word: protein.

    If you have time for a sit-down meal, cook up some eggs or chicken breast, both of which are great sources of protein. Or, if you’re recovering on the go, try protein bars and shakes along with your Kill Cliff. Greek yogurt serves as a great protein-filled on-the-go snack that can be eaten on its own or mixed into smoothies and shakes to give your post-workout meal a personal touch.

    As far as specific recommendations go, studies indicate that around 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is the minimum needed to get the optimal muscle-building effect. Even if your goal isn’t building muscle, this minimum recommendation is still important when it comes to maintaining your muscle mass and helping your muscles recover from grueling workouts.

    Recovery is key to your ability to perform over the long haul. And protein is a big factor in your ability to recover successfully - whether your goals are building muscle or not.

    Final Thoughts

    Whew - that was a lot of data to throw at you. Now, let’s recap all of those tips, thoughts, and recommendations, as well as provide a few extra tips::

    • Consider the nutrient timing window (3-4 hours for smaller meals or 5-6 hours with big meals) as more of an upper limit. If you want to eat immediately before and after your workout, there’s nothing stopping you.
    • Find what works for you. If you prefer to take your workout nutrition on-the-go, make sure your shakes, bars, and other supplements are hitting the necessary protein amounts. If you have time for a sit-down meal, try to incorporate more whole foods alongside your supplements.
    • The 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight should be taken as a daily minimum. If you’re looking for bigger gains - or if you missed out on protein in your earlier meals - bump that number up as needed.
    • Pre-workout, don’t eat “heavy” foods. Your stomach will thank you when you’re banging out heavy sets. Save these foods for your post-workout recovery meal. Trust me… you don’t want to find yourself in a bind at the bottom of a squat!
    • Finally, if you work out with a friend, get them on board with your pre- and post-workout nutrition plan. Having someone else on the same page when it comes to nutrition will make a big difference in your ability to stick to your plan.

    Pre- and post-workout nutrition can be that “x-factor” that, if you get them right, pushes you into gains and results you never expected. Still, it’s nothing without a solid workout plan, so don’t skimp on your workouts and expect your nutrition plan to pick up the slack.

    Ultimately, it’s a synergistic relationship that depends on your fitness and nutrition working in harmony. Use these tips and recommendations to push you ahead, enhancing your workouts to get awesome, exciting gains.

    Did you learn anything new from these recommendations? Do you have strategies of your own that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below!

     

    Images: Flickr, Pixabay, Pixabay, Pixabay

     

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