Last Minute Valentine Gifts for Your Fit Significant Other

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Yes, I know Valentine’s Day is in two days but, if you need a last minute gift idea, here are a few for the fit-minded person in your life. Or if you just want to treat yourself!

  1. Edible Arrangements. Flowers and chocolates are so overrated but a fresh fruit arrangement is unique and a bit healthier than that heart-shaped box of candy!
  2. Beeline Bike Compass. This little device is so simple to use. Just clip it to your bike and follow the arrow! It makes your trip safer by being less distracting then trying to follow a map on your phone. It has two different modes depending on how you want to use it. It also has a built-in clock, speedometer and odometer to track the stats of your ride.
  3. Soundsport Free Wireless Headphones by Bose. For a truly wireless workout experience, these in-ear headphones are perfect. You can keep your phone in your pocket or strapped to your arm or in the cup holder of the stair climber. It doesn’t matter because there are no wires to organize or move out of the way. These headphones will keep the beat no matter what type of workout your loved one is doing.
  4. Simple Green Smoothies. This book is the perfect gift for anyone who likes making their own healthy smoothies. Or for someone who wants to make their own but isn’t sure where or how to start. The book includes a wide variety of recipes, including kid-friendly ones (always a plus!) and information on useful equipment, shopping lists and much more.

Happy Exercising!

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Restaurant and Party Tips

The month of February for me includes several close family members birthdays so it got me thinking about eating out and attending parties. I thought these tips might be helpful for you guys as well!

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  1. Check the menu in advance. Many restaurants now list their menus, including ingredients and nutrition information, online. Having a good idea of what you want before you go makes things less stressful. Of course, you might not be able to get an advance peak at the menu for a party, especially if its pot luck but if you know the  host very well you could ask a few strategic questions.
  2. If you are attending a pot luck party, make sure your contribution is something that fits with your nutrition plan and something you like. Then you know there will be at lease one thing for you!
  3. Think about your drinks. Certainly indulge in a good glass of wine or a fancy drink if its a celebration but make sure you drink some water too. You want to be able to enjoy the great food so don’t fill up on liquid calories.
  4. Get your veggies. Start your restaurant meal with a salad and if you can choose the sides for your meal, make sure to pick a vegetable, and no, french fries don’t count! If you’re at a party, hit the vegetable tray first.
  5. Enjoy yourself! This is the most important tip. There are lots of additional little tips I could tell you, like…dressing on the side, have the server remove the bread, packs doggie bag right away, blah, blah, blah…but honestly, if you’re at a party or out to dinner, just relax and enjoy yourself. One meal is not going to make or break your overall fitness plan. One caveat: If you eat out A LOT then don’t celebrate every time!

Happy Exercising!

5 Steps to a Plant Based Diet

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Step 1: Setting Yourself Up for Change.

Changing your habits isn’t about deprivation or will power or punishing yourself. It’s about having a plan. The first step to a plant-based diet is to figure out your “why”. What are your reasons for wanting to eat a plant-based diet? Health reasons? Environmental reasons? Ethical reasons? A combination? Whatever your reasons are, they will help shape your journey. Having an idea of your end-goal can also help. Your goals could change along the journey but knowing if you intend to go fully plant-based or just reduce the amount of animal products you consume each week can help you plan.

Your first step is to answer these questions for yourself. Write down your answers if that helps but give them some serious thought.

1. Why have you decided to adopt a plant based diet? What do you hope you will gain from it?
2. Is everyone in your household on board? It’s ok if they’re not but it will make a difference in how you approach your journey. (I’m the only vegetarian in my house of 5 but we make it work!)
3. What is your end-goal? To be fully plant-based, meaning you plan to eliminate all animal products including eggs and dairy? To eliminate red meat only? To incorporate more plant-based foods into your existing diet? Some combination of these?

This step may be easy for you or require a lot of thought but don’t skip it.

Step 2. Pay Attention.

Be mindful of what you put in your mouth. Don’t worry about changing anything at this point. Just be aware. Keeping a food journal can be helpful but is not necessary. When we eat mindlessly, we tend to eat whatever is easy, quick and right in front of us. Often, we’re not even aware of how many animal products we consume in a day and how little fruits and vegetables we get. For this step, practice being purposefully mindful of everything you eat for the next two weeks. This behavior will likely result in changes to your diet naturally and that’s ok. Just paying attention often results in positive change.

Step 3. Your Surroundings.

Create the right environment. While I don’t advocate being wasteful and throwing out food, getting rid of stuff in your kitchen that doesn’t align with your new plan can be helpful. Donate it or make a plan to use it up and start fresh with your next shopping trip.

Being prepared when you’re out and about is key to supporting your plant-based diet. Everybody is busy and on the go. I get it. Eating out or grabbing food on the run can’t be helped sometimes, but isn’t a problem if you’re prepared. More and more, restaurants are offering vegetarian and vegan options. For this step, investigate places in your area that offer plant-based options you might be interested in. If you have a usual lunch spot or favorite take-out place then check the menu for options that fit your needs BEFORE your next trip. When you’re in a hurry and starving is not the time to try to find new menu choices. Vegdining.com is a great resource to find plant-based-friendly restaurants.

Step 4. Make The Switch.

You might be the type of person that can jump in with both feet and make a total and complete switch all at once. But for most of us, tackling it in stages works better. For example, phase out red meat over a period of weeks, then pork and poultry, then seafood. Or instead of focusing on eliminating, focus on adding. Bring in one new vegetable a week. Take your time, this isn’t a sprint and going slowly allows you time to adjust. Use this opportunity to be creative. Enjoy your time exploring the produce department! Find new recipes to try. Forks Over Knives and Tasty Vegetarian are good sources for meal ideas and recipes. And Pinterest can be your new best friend!

Step 5. Adding and Subtracting.

When making your food choices, think fresh, whole food. Keep it simple and focus on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Rethink what a “meal” can look like. We’re so used to a meal centered around a piece of meat that we often think its not a real meal if we don’t have meat. If you choose to use fake “meats” and “cheeses” try to phase them out over time. They’re fine for transitioning but you’re simply swapping animal products for processed foods.

For Step 5, choose one item to add/eliminate and work on that for 2 weeks. For example, if you want to reduce or eliminate red meat, work on finding alternative recipes or meal ideas for red meat. Don’t worry about chicken, fish or dairy for now.

If you prefer to focus on adding rather than taking away, find 2 ways to add a plant-based food to your week. Perhaps oatmeal for breakfast instead of sugared cereal. Or your favorite fruit with lunch. Practice a new way to prepare a vegetable for dinner.

Continue slowly adding and eliminating foods over weeks or months. This will be a fun journey so enjoy it and take your time!

Bonus Step: Your Community.

Make connections and find resources. Finding like-minded people can be so helpful on your journey. Being able to ask questions, get advice and share recipes and resources is invaluable. Online groups and vegetarian websites, such as, veggieboards.com and happycow.net are excellent resources.

 

Happy Exercising! And Eating!!!

3 Ways to Make Your Strength Routine More Efficient

I enjoy exercise. Moving and sweating and pushing myself. But that doesn’t mean I want to spend hours and hours on my workout. I’m busy just like everyone else so I need to create efficient exercise routines.

I’m not a bodybuilder or figure competitor so I have no need for dozens of exercises that hit every individual muscle. There’s nothing wrong with that type of training (I’ve used it at other times in my life) its just not what I need right now.

If you’re like me and need an effective and efficient workout too, follow these principles…

1. Compound Movements

Compound movements are exercises that involve multiple muscle groups. Working multiple muscles at once certainly saves time. These can all be done with or without added weight. Things like:

Squat Presses – after you squat down and return to a standing position, press the weight overhead.

 

Row to Stiff-Leg Deadlift – bend over at your hips with weight hanging straight down. Pull weight up to chest. Return to start. Contract glutes and lower back to stand up straight.

Walking Lunge with Alternating Shoulder Raise – step forward into a lunge position while lifting both arms to at least shoulder height. One arm at front and one arm to the side. On the next step alternate arm positions.

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Lunge with Shoulder Raise

Kettlebell Swings – start with the kettlebell between your legs in a slight squat. Contract glutes and hamstrings to thrust the weight forward and lift to about shoulder height.

I could go on and on but you get the idea.

2. Circuits

Circuits are a great way to get a quick workout in when your schedule is busy. Alternate upper and lower body movements and move from one exercise to the next without stopping. For example, squats, pushups, lunges, bent over row, etc.

3. Intensity Level

Adding more weight to your current routine (within reason!) can increase your intensity just enough to give your program a little boost. If you’ve been just going through the motions or doing a set number of reps without considering how challenged your muscles are, then maybe its time to increase the weight to make your workout more efficient and effective.

Happy Exercising!

Is Your Butt Doing It’s Job?

Seriously…is your butt doing it’s job?

And, no, I don’t mean making a dent in your couch cushions. Your gluteus muscles help with just about every movement you make. Walking, running, climbing stairs, lifting everything from a bag of groceries to a 35 pound weight plate..all of these movements go through your hips and glutes in one way or another. Your glutes are part of your core and need to be active and strong just like your abs and low back.

Many people only use their glutes for one thing…sitting on them. You might think “But I exercise every day.” But if you exercise for 30-60 minutes and then sit at a desk the rest of the day, you probably still have lazy glutes. And if your glutes are inactive, they are less able to handle strenuous exercise and unable to properly distribute motion throughout your core.

Lazy glutes can lead to low back and hip pain and I don’t think I need to explain why that’s bad!

Glute activation exercises along with strength building exercises and some foam rolling will get those sleepy muscles firing.

Donkey kicks and clamshells will ‘wake up’ the glute muscles before a strength workout. Do these as part of your warm-up.

Start on all fours with your core tight. Lift one leg keeping your knee bent. Squeeze your glutes to lift your heel towards the ceiling. Focus on using your glutes for the movement and not your lower back.

Lie on your side with knees bent and legs stacked on top of each other. Squeeze your glutes and lift your top leg, keeping your heels touching. Your knees should open and close like a clamshell!

The two best exercises for building glute strength are sumo squats and hip thrusts.

Sumo squats will isolate and engage the glutes more than regular squats.

 

Begin in a wide stance with toes pointed out at a 45 degree angle, core tight and arms in front of you for balance. Squat down with your knees following the same angle as your toes. Press back up through your heels, squeezing your glutes on the way up. You can hold dumbbells for added weight.

Hip thrusts target the glutes to build strength and power by maximizing hip extension.

 

Begin by leaning on an exercise ball or bench with feet planted about hip width apart. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips to parallel, pause and return to start. You can hold a dumbbell or barbell across your hips for added weight.

Get off that derrière and start working it!

Happy Exercising!

Is the Fat Burning Zone a Mythical Creature?

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Is the Fat Burning Zone a mythical creature?

It must be! Otherwise, all those people plodding along on the treadmills at the gym would be in great shape. Like a beautiful, sparkly unicorn, we want to believe that it exists but the concept of the fat burning zone has been regularly misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The fat burning zone theory is that lower intensity exercise, at about 55% – 70% of maximum heart rate, burns more fat. Basically, your body burns more fat at a lower intensity of aerobic exercise than it does at a higher intensity. This sounds good in theory. After all why work harder if you don’t have to, right?

The misinterpretation of this theory happens because there is a difference between percentage of fat burned vs. actual fat burned. In reality, you burn a higher percentage of fat at lower intensities but generally more fat overall at higher intensities. Your body draws energy from two sources, fat and glycogen or stored carbohydrates. The percentages of these two fuel sources vary depending on the intensity of your exercise.

At a lower intensity, you may burn 60% of total calories from fat. And at a higher intensity only 45% of total calories from fat. On the surface, that seems like lower intensity would be better. But at a higher intensity you burn more calories OVERALL which bumps your actual fat calories up even though the percentage is lower.

For example:

 

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The numbers above are just for example purposes but hopefully, you get the point. Percentage vs. actual are very different. Lower intensity exercise has its place in a workout program but if you’re relying on it to help you burn fat, it’s not the best idea. Circuit or interval workouts are efficient and help you burn more calories in less time.

Stop searching for the mythical creature! To truly burn maximum fat, focus on building muscle with a comprehensive strength training program and healthy eating habits. These will do far more to help you reach your goals then chasing the unicorn at the end of the treadmill!

Happy Exercising!

P.S. If you want help creating an effective exercise program, check out my monthly coaching services here.

Moderation…what is it?

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Moderation!

So many people promote moderation especially with regards to diet. But what does moderation REALLY look like? What SHOULD it look like? Moderation is a very subjective sliding scale for most people but I’m not so sure that it’s “sliding” in the right direction. I know some people who consider cutting their McDonald’s run back to once a week is moderation for them.

Ummm….that’s a good start but I believe most people think tiny, moderate changes are good enough to make a significant difference in their health and well-being and to be honest, it’s just not. I’ve known many people to make a small change or two and stop there. Again, a good start, but our wellness goals should not be to stop when it’s “good enough”. Shouldn’t we always be striving towards better health? Even if we’re not always good at it?

Moderation should be different for everybody because everyone is different but it’s not a license to eat like crap and then justify it with “everything in moderation”. It may seem like I’m being harsh but moderation is a slippery slope. Don’t let it be your excuse or your crutch.

Let it lead you to success. Make conscious choices to eat healthy foods AND to indulge. Just make your indulgences count for something. Choose them thoughtfully. Don’t eat random junk out of the vending machine or drink empty calories and then justify it with moderation. Choose to indulge on occasion in your favorite homemade dessert or a decadent meal for a special occasion and TRULY enjoy it. That’s real moderation.

Moderation allows you to be flexible which is one of the best indicators of success in leading a healthier lifestyle. Being too restrictive or constantly over indulging will not lead to long-term success. When used correctly, moderation leads to real balance in your life. And, hopefully, that’s everyone’s goal!

Happy Exercising!

P.S. Click here for a free download Healthy Eating On The Go!