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What is your Spark?

9 May

Twice a year, all of our staff get together to read and dissect a book; these are usually not directly related to fitness, but instead subjects that will get us thinking.  At the end of the day, though, we DO become better trainers and coaches because the topics help us improve our skills as: goal managers, psychologists, motivators, and health promotors.  Last month we discussed the book, “SPARK: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by Dr. John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

 

Generally speaking, Dr. Ratey discusses the connection between physical activity and cognition.  While very science forward, this is an approachable book that should be required reading for anyone who wants to think and reason clearly, and stave off the mental decay brought on by aging, mental disorders, and inactivity.

 

The biggest take-aways:

1 – All stress is not bad.  Proper stress – even at the cellular level – is actually beneficial.  It is what helps to stimulate the body.  Judicious and properly applied stressor will make us healthier and more able to handle dangerous and debilitating circumstances in our futures.  Miniscule amounts of toxins in the foods we eat actually make us more capable of fending off disease.

 

2 – Age is not a deterrent.  We can improve at the cellular level and increase brain size at any age.  Aging really at its most basic view is the body’s cessation of regeneration and growth.  By exercising, we are not only improving our muscular and cardiovascular systems, but increasing neural connections and positive hormonal and neurotransmitter levels in our brains.

 

3 – The same general principles apply to most of everything we do and how we can change, correct, or influence our circumstance and environment to improve our lives.  Whether it’s dementia, anxiety, depression, or addiction, exercise, both physical and mental, can help ameliorate and control these problems.

 

4 – Inactivity is the ultimate killer.  Lack of physical activity will rot not only our bodies, but also our brains and cognitive abilities.  Just like slowing aging, physical activity helps to (re)build pathways in our brains that make us more productive and improve focus and attention.

 

5 – Exercise is a great way to bolster our mental faculties, regardless of the task at hand.  The hormonal and neurotransmitter cascades that occur after exercise help to “grow” our brains and leave them in an environment more capable of learning and retaining information.

 

Now before you get intimidated by thinking that this means that you have to go out and train for a marathon or throw 1,000 pounds over your head, know this: a little is better than nothing, and every little bit more is beneficial.  Taking your current state, adding just 30 minutes of brisk walking daily is enough exercise to make improvements – in your physical health, but also in your thinking and mood.  Try a new sport, add an after-dinner walk with your spouse, or come in for an additional 30 minute session each week.  These will all help you on your path to improving your life and vitality.

Almost Done with the Whole30(60)!

26 Mar

So we are almost done with our challenge now, and I haven’t heard from too many of you lately.

How are things going?!

What has been the biggest challenge for you to date?  Have you figured out any good ways to get past this challenge?

What has been your biggest insight so far?

For myself, my first time through the Whole30 it was that I wasn’t as “tolerant” of dairy as I thought I was.  I generally stay away from the stuff, but sometimes like a little feta mixed into salads for saltiness and texture.  

Any new favorite foods?

After trying the Whole30, I discovered that I actually really liked zucchini and beets.

Any big Whole30-approved attempts for Passover or Easter?

If only there was an easy way to make gluten-free Matzo right?

What have you been cooking?

Here are my latest attempts in the kitchen:

Spaghettin Squash Bolognese

Spaghettin Squash Bolognese

New York Strip and Carmelized Mushrooms with Braised Greens and Pureed Yams

New York Strip and Carmelized Mushrooms with Braised Greens and Pureed Yams

We’d love to hear from all of you as we wind down to the end of the challenge.  And stay tuned for a post this weekend on how to navigate the post-Whole30 landscape and get back to the “real world”.

Hint: it doesn’t involve adding back in MOST of those foods

Clearing up a few questions regarding the Whole30 (60) Challenge

7 Feb

We’ve had great participation from many of you on the challenge so far; as well as some awesome success!

  • 4 pounds lost in the first 3 days
  • 7 pounds lost in the first 2 days
  • More awareness about food choices
  • Being more vigilant about reading food labels

There has also been some really good conversations that have led to questions that might help all of you:

Can I cook with wine, beer, etc?

When you cook with alcohol, the ethanol (what makes it boozy, and what we are avoiding) is burned off, so not present anymore.  With that said, beer and most spirits DO contain grains, so they should still be excluded.  For flavor, it is OK to cook with wine and grain-free spirits (tequila)

What if I don’t want to eat eggs every day for breakfast?

Eggs are a great option for breakfast – they are packed with protein, are quick, can be cooked in a number of different ways, and lend themselves to a vast number of different flavors.  With that said, though, they do not HAVE to be your food of choice for breakfast.  I often find myself eating leftover chili for breakfast, or sausages that I have grilled up the night before.  In essences, it is important to get away from the constructs of what “breakfast foods” should be.  They can be anything!  Play around with how you season your foods, and you might just find that your ideal breakfast is actually seared chicken thighs rubbed with cinnamon and coriander along with sauerkraut and avocado.

Maybe a little Salmon Hash instead of eggs for breakfast?

Maybe a little Salmon Hash instead of eggs for breakfast?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m really hungry.  Why isn’t this working?  You said I would be full.

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Often times when eliminating grains and legumes from our plates, we forget to refill that space with more vegetables, and possibly larger portions of protein.  Make sure that you are getting in AT LEAST 2 different vegetables at each meal (even breakfast).  What I always say is, “set your protein, and then FILL your plate with vegetables.”  This will add satisfying protein and fat to your meal, and physical bulk in the form of fibrous veggies to keep you full.

Why is my thirst “off”?

Since we have eliminated ALL processed foods, your sodium intake has probably dropped immensely.  Because of this, you might not be as thirsty as you were previously (salt craves water in the body).  What you CAN do, is salt your foods a little bit, as you’ll need a little anyways.  You are also taking in more vegetation, which also has a good amount of water inherently in its composition, possibly keeping your thirst down.  

You might also be MORE thirsty.  As the grains and starches have been removed from our plates, our bodies will naturally release water (partly responsible for the great early weight loss).  This will make us more thirsty as we try to recreate that internal hydration status that we have become accustomed to.

Keep the questions coming, and keep hammering those tasty Whole30 meals!  The pictures have been looking great, as well as all of the enthusiasm.  Please let us know if you have any questions along the journey.

Let’s Get Cookin’!

7 Jan

Many of you have heard from me that the easiest way to be successful at this “no grains thing” is to prepare your menus and meals in advance so there are always options available for you in the refrigerator.  This will prevent you from eating “whatever” is around, or worse: eating out and making even worse choices.

In the new year, I am reinvigorating my efforts to cook A LOT on Sundays in anticipation of the week.  And yesterday, I did just that.  After heading to 2 different grocery stores, in the pictures below you will see my haul.  And here’s what was either made, prepped for, or purchased to make later in the week:

Nothing like a stoveful of cooking magic

Nothing like a stoveful of cooking magic

Bryan Voltaggio’s Beef Stew with Ale (recipe)

Slow-Cooked Cinnamon Pork Loin with Parsnips

Fermented Brassicas (cauliflower, romanesco, red cabbage)

Roasted Beet, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad

Below all from Diane Sanfilippo’s Book Practical Paleo (for sale at FIT)

Mustard Glazed Chicken Thighs

Lemony Lamb Dolmas

Swirly Crustless Quiche

B.E.A.T Salad from Mark’s Daily Apple

 

Yes, that’s a lot of food, but it will be for two people, for the week.  Additionally, some of it might get frozen for eating later on.

A kitchen full of fresh veggies? A beautiful thing

A kitchen full of fresh veggies? A beautiful thing

A full fridge is a happy fridge!

A full fridge is a happy fridge!

So now that you’ve seen what my week’s worth of food looks like, how does yours compare?

Share your pictures with us; either here, or on the FIT facebook page.

Less sedentary time crucial for children’s health

3 Apr

When you teach high schoolers, as I did for a number of years, there are very few things that they do that will really surprise you. But spend a day shadowing any student and you will be astounded at how much sedentary time they have: they sit on their way to and from school, they sit for hours on end in class after class, they sit down while they eat lunch with their friends, they go home to sit down and spend hours cranking out homework and updating their Facebook status.

Play time!

Perhaps the student gets a moment of rest from all this sitting to spend an hour or two at a team practice for a sport. Perhaps not. But with how much sedentary time children and students have, we have to wonder how this affects their health.

A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) examined the association between vigorous physical activity and sedentary time amongst healthy children. Examining cardiometabolic measures–i.e. waist circumference, systolic blood pressure, fasting lipoprotein, and fasting insulin–across more than 20,000 children and adolescents, the study suggests that minimal sedentary time, or more movement through the day, is more important to health than brief bouts of formal, intense exercise in the gym, during a practice, or in a PE class. In other words, time spent in sedentary behavior all day can undo the benefits gained from formal exercise.

The point? Moving more throughout the day–even slow and unstructured movement–is more important to your child’s health than living mostly sedentary with occasional exercise.

It’s important to note that activity is not necessarily just another thing that we do–another box we check off from our to-do lists–but a way of living. Activity is an underlying characteristic to the things we do day to day. To live an active lifestyle does not necessarily mean joining all kinds of teams and clubs and gyms, thus making ourselves even busier than we already are. Living actively means enjoying movement throughout your day.

But what do we do with this? With the pace that we can run in life and the number of things on our plate, sometimes it feels like it is all we can do to get our children out of the chair for those few moments of activity during their PE classes or team practices.

So, take small steps. Here are some ideas. If your child enjoys video games and you own an Xbox Kinect or Nintendo Wii, encourage them to take a “brain break” every 30 minutes or so from their homework for a quick game of ping-pong or tennis. Create challenges for your children each month such as walking or riding their bike (if possible) to and from school. Encourage your children to read their school books while standing up for 10 minutes instead of hunched over the text. Or think up quick five minute games to do during the commercial breaks of your children’s favorite TV shows like playing paddy-cake with your feet instead of your hands (don’t laugh, it’s actually quite difficult).

Perhaps you have already taken steps to encourage more unstructured movement time in your children’s daily routines. If so, please post to the comments to share your ideas and keep the dialogue going. Slow and steady wins the race.

Busting through those Late Winter Plateaus!

9 Mar

So you’ve made it to March on your New Years Resolution program of eating better, sleeping more, and getting some exercise, but now you’re running out of steam.  I get it: you put all your gusto into changing all of your habits at once, and you’re just a little bit fatigued at this point.  Yes! You HAVE seen some great results, but you want more!  What do you do when the program you have been so diligently following is getting stale and no longer giving you the results that you want?

This is the perfect time to change things up for the better, adjust your program to jump-start progress, and reinvigorate your enthusiasm for health and wellness.  With the weather warming up, why don’t you take your program outside?  There are plenty of ways to create challenging and fun workouts in the sunshine and away from all of the noise and clutter of the gym.  In addition, you’ll give yourself a needed dose of vitamin D after spending all those months cooped up indoors.

How about a complete change in program? After working hard for the last 3 months, nothing will get your exercise passion back like trying something different.  Personally, I like to completely revamp what I’m working on a few times each year.  This keeps me from feeling stale, as well as gives me new challenges to work toward.  For example, if you recently spent the last few months trying to really increase your strength in the gym with a progressive weight program, why not try a completely bodyweight program?  How do you add resistance you ask?  Well take that push up and invert it – handstand pushups are quite challenging, but work the same muscles that you would with a shoulder press or push press.

 

 

 

 

 

Why not finally master those pull ups you have been working on?  Nothing says I’m ready for the impending beach season like well sculpted arms and a nice strong back.  And I know that too many of you have avoided trying those pistol squats for fear of falling and making a fool of yourself.  Now is your chance to master all those 1-leg exercises that looked too intimidating.

And what about learning a new skill or sport?  I myself have endeavored to become proficient in the competition kettlebell lifts and the Turkish Get-up.  While training with kettlebells is en vogue these days, the competition lifts – and the training that goes along with them – is still something that I haven’t really experienced yet.  Even though I have been using kettlebells in my training for the last several years, I have no idea how many 1 arm snatches I can do in 10 minutes.  Think about something new that you’ve been dreaming about doing, and set your heart and mind to it.  Think of this as your New Year’s Resolution version 2.0!  Find yourself a qualified trainer or instructor in a new discipline and dive in.

Outdoor Workout

Sprint 50 yards

10 x Tree Stump Throws (can use a tire, sandbag, big rock)

10 x Tree Branch Pull Ups

10 x Log Lateral Hurdle Jumps

50 yard Bear Crawl

5 Rounds; 1 min. rest in-between

Bodyweight Workout

5 x Pistol Squats (each leg)

10 x Handstand Push Ups

15 x Inverted Rows on rings or bar

As many rounds in 15 minutes as possible

Kettlebell Workout

5 Sets

5 x Snatch/5 Windmill

10 x Swings

5 x 3 Turkish Get Ups (per side)

 

Let me know how you get through the next 3 months!

Dying Younger from Heart Disease

1 Dec

While I am not really one for scare tactics and fear-mongering, I couldn’t help but share this startling finding: Today’s Teens Will Die Younger of Heart Disease, Study Finds

In the article, the authors point to a study performed by researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine who found that:

-[many] children and adolescents, ages 12 to 19, … have high blood sugar levels, are obese or overweight, have a lousy diet, don’t get enough physical activity and even smoke

-“After four decades of declining deaths from heart disease, we are starting to lose the battle again,” Lloyd-Jones added

The article goes on to enumerate some of the glaringly poor health characteristics that the researchers found, including bad diets, high blood sugar, obesity or overweight, and low physical activity, among others.

These are all things that we at FIT can help to improve, as well as educate about.

Recipe Updates

28 Oct

Sorry for the lack of posting, but as many of you know, I recently moved, and have been inundated with trying to unpack and make my new home all my own.  So…here are a few recipes from recent Wednesday night meetings.

Pre- & Post-Workout Snacks

Pre-Workout

Smoked Salmon with Avocado on Veggie Rounds

2-3 oz. Smoked Alaskan Salmon (most likely will find Sockeye at the grocery store)

Make sure that the only ingredients are salmon, salt, and smoke

1/4 avocado

Sliced eggplant or cucumber

To assemble, smear some of the avocado onto the veggie round and place salmon on top.

These can be made in advance, or just put together as you need them.  Remember that a pre-workout snack should be mostly protein and/or fat, but in smaller portions than a full meal.  It is really intended to prepare the body for exercise with a hormonal stimulus freeing up fatty acids to fuel your workout.

Post-Workout

Quick Pickled Curry Carrots

Slice carrots into coins or sticks and place in a sealable container.  In a separate bowl, mix together salt, curry powder, fresh ground black pepper, powdered ginger, and mustard powder.  The exact amounts you use depend on your tastes, but make sure that you have plenty of salt.  This is what produces the “pickling” of the carrots.  Mix 3 parts vinegar (I like to use apple cider vinegar) and 1 part water together in the bowl with the spices.  Pour mixture over the carrots, enough to cover them.  Seal the container and refrigerate for at least an hour.  The longer the carrots stay in the refrigerator, the more pickled they will become.  Other firm vegetables – beets, cauliflower – can be used in place of carrots.

Sweet Potato Chips

Wash and peel sweet potatoes.  Slice as thinly as possible – a mandolin works really well here.  Grease a sheet pan with coconut oil and spread potato chips out on the tray.  In a small dish, heat coconut oil until it is melted.  Pour over the potato chips just enough to coat.  Sprinkle any seasonings (MSG-free) on the chips that you like.  Place tray in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees and cook until desired doneness, about 30-40 minutes.  If you like, you can flip the chips halfway through and season again.  This will make them crispier as well.

Post-workout snacks should be a combination of carbohydrate and protein, with minimal fat.  These two options can be combined with more of the smoked salmon (no avocado this time) or with other protein on hand.  

 

And in case you were on the fence about choosing organics, here is a great article from the Organic Consumers Association.

Best take away: Organic foods are nutritionally dense compared to foods produced with toxic chemicals, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds.

Almost to the End

25 Oct

While we’re getting ready for the end of the Whole 30, I wanted to remind everybody about our final meeting this Wednesday evening at 7pm.

Where: 1133 Miguel Avenue Los Altos (off of Fremont)

When: 7pm

What: Please bring a Whole 30 approved dish that can serve 4-6.  This can be a main dish, side, salad, or even appetizer; just something for all of us to share and enjoy.

 

Also, I came across this article about how to get your children to eat more vegetables.  Big tips from the article:

  • Set a good example for your kids.  “…they are watching us and learning all the time, although they’ll never admit it.”
  • Have your kids get involved in the preparing of veggie casseroles, side dishes, main dishes, salads, etc. Have them flip through a vegetable cookbook and a recipe that looks appetizing.
Hope that helps in this last week, and don’t forget to come share a meal with us this Wednesday.

Find of the Week

12 Dec

Kalona Supernatural – one word . . .Yummm.  This company produces non-homogenized, VAT pasturized dairy products.  The cows are pasture raised on small family farms.  Wish it were local but c’est la vie.  The cottage cheese is delish and I’m guessing the yogurt would be to.  Look for it at your local Whole Foods.  For more info, check out their website which explains their rationale for the process they use.

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