New Recomposition Nutrition and Lifting Plan – Part 1

As many of you know, late September 2017 I had surgery on my shoulder to repair a torn labrum, an injury I had incurred in October of 2016.  My injury, journey through physical therapy to try to avoid surgery, and then coming to terms with the surgery and dealing with recovery is a long story in and of itself, so I won’t get into it here (but maybe I will write a separate post on it if anyone’s interested?)  Post surgery, however, I was in a sling for a month and a half, and once the sling came off I was able to get back into the gym but my workouts were very limited to basically only certain machines for the lower body.

Fast forward about 3 months from that point and I was finally able to start holding heavier weights in my hands and am starting to get back the mobility and strength in my shoulder to support a squat bar.  I was so excited for this progress that I had a burst of motivation to totally revamp my nutrition and fitness regimen to incorporate more variety and intensity in my lifts.  With great timing, one of my best friends also came to me asking for nutrition/fitness help and wanted me to build him a program where he would be gaining muscle but losing body fat “simultaneously.”  (Simultaneously is in quotations because fat loss and muscle gain wouldn’t literally be happening at the same time, but rather during alternating days based on calorie intake for that day.  More on this soon.)  I started my research with my go-to for fitness related help, On The Regimen.  This was actually where I had first heard about recomposition, so it seemed like a logical place to start.  My research took me a couple of new sites that I’ve since added to my “go-to” list, including Lean Gains and Barbend.  After a few days of research, I think I got a pretty good handle on the principles behind recomposition, and I’ve summarized some main points below.

I want to preface the rest of this post with a reminder that I am not a trained nutritionist or personal trainer, and I encourage everyone to do their own research when trying to decide how to best exercise and fuel their body.  Also, and even more importantly, listen to your body because it will always tell you when something is/isn’t working for it.

What is a recomposition plan?

A recomposition plan, in a nutshell, is one in which you eat higher calories and higher carbs on lift days (refeed days), and lower calories/carbs, and higher fat on rest days.  By alternating higher calorie days with lower calorie/deficit days, your body cycles through muscle gain and fat loss, resulting in either a slow cut or lean bulk.

What are the benefits?

A recomposition plan allows you to lose body fat without compromising too much muscle gain, or gain muscle without also gaining too much tag-along fat.  If one of these two things isn’t a priority for you, a recomposition plan might not be worth it, plain and simple.  It also allows for refeed days, which are good for people who have difficulty eating a caloric deficit all week and waiting for that one (usually anticlimactic) cheat meal, aka #brunch.

What makes recomposition difficult?

In my opinion, what makes this type of plan so difficult to follow is that it requires a lot of planning – you have to have a variety of different food items on-hand to be able to get the correct spread of macros on any given day, and you can’t just eat the same stuff every day because your macros change daily.  You have to pay attention to whether it’s a lift or rest day before deciding your day’s meals, and once you start eating for the day it would be difficult to switch your day from lift to rest and vice versa.  If you’re really committed to your regimen, don’t often eat meals out, and are fairly efficient at counting macros (or are willing to take the time to learn), then I would suggest this type of plan if it fits your goals.  This type of plan is similar to iifym in the sense that there aren’t any foods that are strictly off-limits, but it takes it a step further because there are some things that it would be pretty difficult to in practice actually fit your macros.

Slow Cut vs Lean Bulk

Body fat revolves around a very simple calories in vs calories out equation.  If you start a recomposition plan that overall has a weekly deficit, you’ll be on the road to a slow cut.  If your plan has an overall weekly surplus, you’ll be geared more towards a lean bulk.  The choice is yours.

Deficit days vs Refeed Days

The recomposition program is built around the idea that a caloric deficit burns fat, and a caloric surplus helps build muscle.  By eating maintain/surplus calories on lift days, you’re providing your body with enough fuel to build muscle, and by eating in a deficit on rest days, you are putting your body into a temporary period of fat burning mode.  Deficit days deplete the body of the hormone leptin, which regulates energy balance by communicating to the brain that we are satiated and can metabolize energy as normal.  Refeeds replenish leptin.  The macro spread you eat on deficit/refeed days matter, too.  Due to the thermogenic effect of food (essentially the energy it takes for the body to break down food), a refeed with a high percentage of calories from protein will yield the least amount of fat storage.  Protein has a higher thermogenic effect and it causes the body to expend more energy to break down and use/store.  In other words, if you’re eating a surplus amount of calories, proteins take the longest to break down and are therefore the least efficient macro for the body to store as fat.  By also eating higher carbs on refeed days, you have the energy you need to sustain your workouts, and you’re fueling your body with the macronutrient that’s most easily broken down by the body for energy.  Since you are eating higher calories on these training days, fats are kept to a minimum to decrease the chances of the extra calories being stored as fat by the body (since fat is the easiest macronutrient for the body to store as fat).  Increasing healthy fats on deficit days makes it easier to achieve well-rounded nutrition, and the likelihood is low that any of these fats will be stored by the body because you aren’t providing enough calories to have a surplus that would require storage.

Refer to the article I referenced for most of this information here.

Regarding “Cheat Days”

As of now, I haven’t incorporated a traditional “cheat day” into my plan.  My “refeed” days, or the higher calorie lift days, contain enough calories to sustain a day in which I am not hungry, and allow for enough carbs to have something sweet if I so desire or to have a starchy carb like potatoes or pasta.  The only issue I have with not having a cheat day built into the plan is that it makes it tough to enjoy a guilt-free meal out, or a real baked good.  Since the high carb days are low fat, you’re forced to be very conscious of the tag-along fats that are often present in baked sweets and restaurant meals.  For now, I am managing fine.  Undecided yet on whether I will incorporate a real cheat meal into the plan.

On Intermittent Fasting

After you eat a meal, insulin and fatty acids are elevated in the body and your body is in the “fed” state, during which the body is primarily relying on glucose oxidation for energy and fat burning is placed on hold.  After 12 hours (and if you don’t eat again), the body begins to run out of fresh glucose, and is more likely to switch to fat storage for energy, and you are thought to be in fat burning mode.  During the 12-16 hour time interval of a fast, your body is considered to be in the golden age of fat oxidation, and low intensity activities (i.e. incline walking on the treadmill, cycling, etc.) will selectively use fatty acids to fuel activity.  In contrast, higher intensity activity (i.e. sprints, spin class) will cause your body to seek glucose for a big burst of energy.

Now that the technical information is out of the way, I want to say that I am a huge fan of intermittent fasting, especially on rest days when I am eating fewer calories.  I find that BCAAs in the morning give me the boost I need to get through my workouts without having the calories to break my fast.  Ever since I started intermittent fasting (7-ish months ago?) I find that I am less bloated and I feel more satiated after my 1.5-2 standard meals for the day because each one has more calories in it.  That said, if there’s a day that I am really hungry before the time that I wanted to break my fasted state, I eat.  Although it took a little while to really get used to intermittent fasting, by no means do I feel like I am depriving myself or starving myself, and I actually find now that I don’t start getting hungry until later in the day.  Intermittent fasting certainly isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s worth trying for a bit until you get used to it, and seeing if you can benefit from it.

How do I get started?

  1. The first thing that has to be done is calculate, to the best of your ability, your best estimate of your maintain calories.  This is going to help because then you’ll have a good idea of what your deficit and refeed day macro spread should be.  I used the On The Regimen calculation to get a base, but I also compared that with the average calories burned per day that my fitbit estimates.  Once you’re into your program for a few weeks you’ll be able to calculate more accurately how many calories your body burns daily and you can adjust your plan accordingly (i.e. if you are losing body fat more rapidly than you originally thought you would, maybe you burn more calories than you originally calculated.  Likewise, if you aren’t losing body fat but thought you built a plan that would cause you to do so, maybe you overestimated how many calories you burn daily.  These estimates are fairly intuitive if you pay attention to your body).
  2. Next, decide whether you want to have a slow cut or lean bulk plan.  This will determine how steep your caloric deficit will be on rest days, and how you will structure your refeed days (i.e. maintain, or surplus?)  I am creating a Part 2 post to get into the details of my lifting plan that I will post shortly!
  3. Determine your macro spread.  First, you’ll need to decide how many calories you want to eat per day (training v rest) and then compartmentalize your calories into macros.  I stick with the idea that you should have about 1g protein for each lb of body weight, and then your carbs and fats are fairly negotiable based on the things you like to eat.  My protein intake doesn’t change much between training and rest days, however, my carb/fat macro spread basically switches.  On training days, carbs are about 57% of the day’s calories, and fats are about 15%.  The rest is protein.  On rest days, carbs are about 15% of the day’s calories, and fats are about 45%.  The rest is protein.
  4. The last step is meal prep!  Plan ahead with your weekly shop and meal prepping – it will make this type of plan so much easier and less stressful.  List out the sources of protein that you like and have available to you, and then figure out how much of them you’ll have to stock up on to feed you for the week.  Getting enough protein during this type of plan is important because since you will be in a caloric deficit for certain days out of the week, you don’t want your body to start breaking down its own muscle.

Once you’ve figured out your maintain calories, decided on your macro spread, and got down some sort of meal prep plan, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be!  Are you considering starting a nutrition plan like this, or do you need more information before you can get started?  Let me know in the comments, or email or DM me with your questions!

Part 2 to come soon, which will detail my fitness regimen to go along with my new spread of macros.  Stay tuned!!

 

I Cooked Dinner After Work For Myself Every Day For A Week…

I Cooked Dinner After Work For Myself Every Day For A Week…

I love doing my grocery shopping every week, and I love doing a weekly meal prep, but I don’t always love coming home from work and then having to cook something.  I don’t cook every night, but I also don’t cook everything I need for the week on the weekend either (unless I’m anticipating a very busy week with work).  Most often, I will cook 1-2 times per week, cook extra, and have leftovers the rest of the nights.  Sometimes I’ll throw together something like a salad that I don’t have to do any cooking for.  Though I don’t often have a freshly cooked meal every single night, a couple of weeks ago I decided I would give it a try and cook myself a fresh one-serving meal every night (Monday-Thursday).  For the week, I had at my disposal plenty of avocado, frozen raw chicken, eggs, brussels sprouts,  cauliflower, and a variety of noodles/pastas.

A few things before I start.  I don’t have a dishwasher, so I did spend a significant amount of time doing dishes.  This would have been a LOT easier if I had a dishwasher to help with the cleanup.  Second, I have been practicing intermittent fasting for a while now, and depending on my schedule at work sometimes dinner is my only real meal.  That said, I am not going to really comment on my portion sizes, because I think everyone’s dinner is going to look different depending on the type of diet they follow, and their goals at the moment.  The real purpose of this post is less to show you how much dinner I am eating, and rather to show a few meals that can reasonably be thrown together after a full day at work.

Monday -Brussels sprouts, spaetzle, chicken, and a fried egg 

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I am always on the fence about committing to making brussels sprouts.  I love the way they taste, but they’re pretty tedious to prepare because you have to cut them if you want them to cook quickly and evenly, and to prevent me from chopping my fingers off I cut them up one by one.  For this meal I decided to go for it, and I sauteed the brussels sprouts in chili powder, salt, and pepper, boiled the spaetzle, and then combined the spaetzle with the brussels in the pan and sauteed that all together.  I cooked the chicken in the same spices, chopped it up, and then tossed that together with the spaetzle and the brussels.  Lastly, I fried up an egg and laid that on top of the assembled plate.  I didn’t use any oil in this meal, and the spices and juices from the chicken and brussels sprouts helped to give more flavor to the spaetzle, and then I let the runny egg get all over everything before I dug in.  This was delicious, and pretty easy clean up because it was just one pot, one pan, one bowl, and a knife and cutting board.

Tuesday – Brussels sprouts, spaetzle, avocado, and chicken 

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I enjoyed the spaetzle so much on Monday that I made it again on Tuesday.  I didn’t combine the spaetzle and brussels sprouts in the pan this time, but plated it all separately (but then mixed it all together in my bowl before I ate it anyway).  This meal is basically the same as Monday’s, except for the fact that I swapped out the fried egg for avocado smash.  I again didn’t use any oil while cooking, but the avo smash helped to make a sauce for the rest of the dish when I mixed it all together in the absence of the runny egg.  This was equally as delicious as Monday’s meal, with similar cleanup.

Wednesday – Chicken, and Barilla Plus high protein pasta with brussels sprouts 

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I sauteed the brussels sprouts in a little bit of butter, boiled the Barilla Plus pasta, and used some butter to dress the pasta as well.  I mixed the brussels sprouts in with the pasta, and laid the chicken (cooked with just salt and pepper) on top.  This was simple, easy, buttery, and delicious.  I really love the Barilla Plus high protein pasta because it helps me meet my protein goals without sacrificing any taste or texture.

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Bonus – I also had a snack before my meal of scrambled eggs and Mikey’s bread.  It was delicious.  I honestly learned how to cook scrambled eggs correctly from Frankie Celenza (Frankie Cooks) on a SnapChat discover video, and it changed the way I look at scrambled eggs.  Basically, you cook them on a very low heat, very slowly, and constantly move them around with a rubber spatula in circular motions as they cook.  They come out smooth and creamy, and almost look and taste like they have a ton of butter and cheese in them, but they don’t!  They take almost 3x as long to cook this way, but I highly recommend trying it.  Also, I really like the Mikey’s products.  My favorite are the english muffins, but they also make slices (pictured here), tortillas, pizza crust, and muffin tops! (And potentially more things, check their website!)  They’re a bit pricey, but they have very low net carbs if that’s your thing, and I think they’re worth a try.

Thursday – Chicken, cauliflower, edamame noodles, and a fried egg 

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This was my last day of cooking for the week, and I was honestly relieved.  I couldn’t back out of cooking this day even if I wanted to because I didn’t have any leftovers, and I had nothing that I could really throw together cold.  I sauteed some cauliflower in chili pepper powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and turmeric, and cooked my chicken in salt and pepper.  I boiled some Explore Cuisine edamame pasta, and plated it up.  Lastly, I fried an egg and laid that on top.  This dish was the least saucy because I used so many spices on the cauliflower that the runny egg wasn’t really enough to juice up the dish.  Lesson learned!  Overall, this was tasty, and I love the edamame pasta because it provides more protein than it does carbs!  And the texture of it is more like pasta than any other carb-friendly pasta I’ve ever tried.

Final Thoughts: 

This was a lot of work, but mostly because of having to wash pots every single night.  It was definitely nice to have so many freshly prepared meals, and I think I will try incorporating more cooking after work into my plans.  It’s really not so bad once you get into the swing of the routine, and as long as you don’t let the dishes get backed up.

What do you think? Will you try to incorporate more cooking into your evening routine? Let me know in the comments, and tag me in your freshly cooked meals @liftinluxe #liftinluxe !

Stay fit and freshly cooked, all!

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What I ate in Miami

What I ate in Miami

A couple of weekends ago I visited the amazing city of Miami for the first time.  I have a friend from college who lives down there, and a couple of friends from home who visit every year, and this year I finally was able to make the trip!  I knew it would be a weekend heavier in drinking and lighter on sleep than I am used to, and it would also be a weekend off from the gym.  I decided to NOT panic at the thought of such a dramatic lifestyle change for an entire weekend, but to embrace it and enjoy myself.  As a compromise with myself, I committed to remaining keto while on my trip, which meant:

  1. Dining out required a few modification requests, and no desserts (luckily the friends I was with aren’t big foodies, so this wasn’t difficult to achieve at all).
  2. Drinking was limited to liquor, moderate wine, no beer, and no sugary chasers/mixers

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As the other half of my compromise with myself, I committed to going with the flow, not worrying about what time I was going to sleep, not tracking my macros in my app, and generally trying to have the most fun!  I have to say, this little internal compromise was the absolute perfect balance, and really made my weekend in Miami very enjoyable.  I’m not a big drinker in general, so whatever drinking I wound up doing on my trip wasn’t enough to really throw me off track.  Not tracking my macros for the weekend was refreshing, my phone didn’t die nearly as fast as it usually does, and I just made sure to stay aware of the protein/carb/fat ratios in the things I was eating in order to stay in line with keto (and the fact that I’m a seasoned macro counter really helped with this, so don’t get too frustrated if you can’t eyeball things if you’re new to the world of macros.  It comes with time and practice!)  Lastly, one thing that we completely avoided, which also helped a lot, was getting food after our nights out.  I find that it’s the late night munchies that really throw me off the next day after being out.

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Talk about squad goals 😉

All of that said, let’s get into where I went and what I ate during my weekend in Miami!

Friday

My flight landed around dinnertime, so I only had one meal in Miami this day.  We went to The Spillover in Coconut Grove, which is a yummy restaurant that specializes in ciders and meads.  As much as I wanted to try one of their unique meads and ciders, I settled on a glass of white wine, but stuck to something dry because there are much fewer carbs in a dry wine than a sweet dessert wine.  My friends and I shared as an appetizer the Alligator Ribs special, which came with fries and coleslaw.  I skipped the fries, had a few tastes of the alligator (which was awesome, as a side note), and had some of the slaw.  It was perfectly satisfying as an appetizer, as long as you can ignore the tempting smell of the fries o_O

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As my main, I ordered the Yeyo Salad, which had the following menu description: Chopped romaine lettuce tossed with free-range grilled chicken, croutons, chopped bacon, shredded jack cheese, cracked black pepper and creamy garlic dressing.  I swapped the garlic dressing for Caesar dressing (on the side) after asking the waitress what the ingredients of the dressings were.  I also forgot to ask for no croutons so I had to pick them out when the salad came.  Asides from that, the salad was very keto friendly right off the menu, and was filling and delicious.

Saturday

Friday was a late night, and Saturday was a late morning, so for our first meal of the day we wound up getting brunch at 1 PM at Eating House in Coral Gables.  It wasn’t a boozy brunch for me at all, but I did have some coffee with cream.  The table ordered tater tots, maple candied bacon, and cap’n crunch pancakes to share, and I sadly couldn’t participate.  I did have a piece of the bacon, and am honestly not sure how much sugar was actually on it, but it was delicious.  As my main, I got the Carbonara Eggs Benedict, and the menu description was: soft eggs, bacon, black truffle, grana padano, toast.  Before going to the restaurant, I looked up the yelp page to see what I was working with (something I always do prior to visiting a restaurant) and I noticed that there was something that looked like breadcrumbs in the photos of this Benedict dish.  When I ordered, I asked the waitress about what they sprinkle on top and she confirmed that they do add breadcrumbs, so I ordered the dish sans-breadcrumbs, and sans-toast.  The waitress was unsure of my decision, but I went through with it anyway, curious to see what low carb eggs benedict would be like.  It was covered generously in a creamy grana padano sauce, so it was definitely filling enough without the toast, and it was served in a deep dish so it was easy to eat without the toast as well.  Overall, it was a great decision to have something savory for brunch (as opposed to the pancakes or waffles I probably would have ordered instead), because the healthy fats and minimal sugar kept my head clear, and didn’t make me sleepy all afternoon.  Also, not having the toast was a great decision because I didn’t feel overly full and bloated afterwards.

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We took a ride into Wynwood later in the afternoon, walked around town, and saw the Wynwood Walls.  For a late dinner, we went to the Wynwood Diner.  I ordered a Diet Coke with my meal because I wanted something a little sweet and bubbly, and as my main I got the Cobb Salad: iceberg, avocado, tomato, egg, grilled chicken, bacon, gorgonzola, served with a red wine vinaigrette.  I opted for regular vinegar instead of the vinaigrette, but asides from that I didn’t modify this dish.  Unfortunately the restaurant was very dimly lit so I didn’t photograph this one, but the portion was massive and all of the ingredients were fresh and delicious, so I enjoyed this meal a lot!

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Sunday

We didn’t have much time to do anything except for breakfast on Sunday before our flight, but we still had an amazing breakfast at Havana Harry’s in Coral Gables.  The portions at this Cuban restaurant are immense and the food was really good.  I got the spinach and goat cheese omelet with a side of tomatoes instead of potatoes.  They were generous with the goat cheese to say the least, and this was the perfect meal to end the weekend.

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Concluding Thoughts….

Eating keto while away was all around the best decision.  It made me eat less overall (i.e. no toast at brunch, and not participating when everyone is sharing something like fries and pancakes), which obviously led to less calorie consumption but also made me feel better in general.  It also caused me to choose more healthy meal options, because there are only so many options to choose from that can be modified into a no carb meal.  When it comes down to it, some dishes just won’t work, no matter how much you try to modify!  For example, you can’t modify a waffle or dish of pancakes to be keto friendly, but you can modify an egg dish to suit your needs.  In choosing the eggs, you might be eating the same number of calories, but you’re eliminating the sugar and adding healthy fats.  I find that the menu options that can be modified into keto friendly meals are generally the more healthy options to begin with.  And, when all else fails, SALAD!  You can literally build any salad you want at virtually any restaurant, and this will always be a savior for anyone counting their macros.

What are your go-to meals when eating out at restaurants, and what are some of your vacation hacks for staying on track? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Stay fit and fresh, all!

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Days 4-7 on Keto

Days 4-7 on Keto

If you follow me on Instagram or read my latest post, you’re definitely very well aware that I am a couple of weeks into the ketogenic diet, and am totally loving every avocado filled minute of it!  In that first post, I explained a bit about what the ketogenic diet is, and some of the benefits of following it.  I also told you not to pass judgment on the diet just from hearing about my first three days experience, and to stay tuned to hear about the rest of my first week.  (PSA, apologizing in advance for the not cute photos in this post.  It’s pretty difficult to glam up my tupperware lunches that I bring to work, especially when they have mushy avocado all throughout.)  As a quick recap of my last post, by the end of day 3 my ketone levels were “trace,” which was a step above average levels.  I was tired, I had body aches, and come-and-go headaches.  Sounds like fun, right?  It was a no-brainer that I had to keep going, so let’s see how I fared for the rest of the week!

Day 4

When I woke up this morning, my ketone levels according to the ketone strips I bought was between small and moderate.  My body felt completely normal again,  so my headaches and body aches went away.  It was my day off from the gym, so I got to sleep in before going to work, and I wasn’t tired at all when I woke up (which was somewhat surprising, because it was my first day back after a five-day July 4th holiday).  My head felt very clear all day.  I intermittent fasted, so my first meal was at 1PM.  I made myself a cold avocado, tomato, and mozzarella salad that I brought to work, dressed in olive oil.  I also had a snack of pecans on the side of my lunch.  This kept me full all the way until dinner at 6:30 PM.  For dinner I made myself zoodles with homemade pesto (basil, olive oil, and parmesan cheese), and some dark meat chicken.  As a bedtime snack at 9 PM I had some brie cheese.  Overall, this was a very good day.  My energy and focus at work were above average, and I didn’t get my normal afternoon munchies.

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Day 5

This morning I tried a fasted workout, which was a huge fail.  I usually do a fasted workout in the morning before work, but I also usually have BCAAs along with it which helps with hunger and energy.  About three quarters of the way through this workout I just about KO’d.  I’m not exactly sure what made this workout so difficult, but I’m sure it was a combination of it being my first ever truly fasted workout attempt, and also the first morning workout attempt since coming back from the July 4th holiday.  Either way, I called it a loss and left the gym early.  When I got home around 7:50 AM I had a snack of cottage cheese (so I did not intermittent fast today) and almost immediately felt so much better and full of energy.  This morning at 10:30 AM I also had a matcha latte made with almond milk and a splash of heavy cream.  For lunch at 2 PM, I had a cold salad of zucchini, mozzarella cheese, and avocado dressed in olive oil and liquid aminos.  For dinner, I had scrambled eggs cooked in butter with mozzarella cheese and some more brie.  I noticed as I was leaving work today that I was getting some cramps in my leg muscles.  After asking a friend, who is a seasoned keto survivor, and doing some more independent research, it turns out this diet results in the body retaining less water, which means we can become depleted in electrolytes.  On my way home from work I stopped into my local health store and bought potassium and magnesium supplements.

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Day 6

I woke up this morning not hungry at all, and I attempted another fasted workout (but this time brought some pecans to the gym with me in case of an emergency.  I wound up not needing them, though, as my body handled my fasted workout much better this morning than the previous morning.  My muscle cramps went away, and I was left with some residual soreness, but nothing at all major or similar to the cramps I was experiencing the day before.  I intermittent fasted today and had my first meal at 1:30 PM of scrambled eggs with mozzarella cheese, some breakfast sausage, some avocado, and (decaf) coffee with a splash of heavy cream.  For dinner at 8 PM I made myself some zucchini “nachos” which were basically thinly sliced zucchini baked in the oven and topped with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, avocado, olive oil, and a bunch of delicious seasonings.  As a bedtime snack at 9:30 PM I had some pecans and cottage cheese.  My energy and focus today were absolutely amazing, and my hunger levels were pretty low.  Also, right before going to bed my ketones were at a moderate level, which was the most they have been all week!

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Day 7

This morning was the first morning waking up feeling totally normal.   All of the residual side effects of my glucose detox have gone away, and tracking my macros and preparing my meals feels like second nature.  I am definitely proud of myself for not only sticking to such a restrictive diet for a full week, but also detoxing my body of sugar in the process.  I realized that this week I hadn’t even eaten any packaged goods or supplements like BCAAs and protein powders, since I didn’t really feel a need for them.

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I would definitely recommend checking out my previous post for a ton of things I learned during my first three days on keto, since I learned the most during those first experimental days.  Towards the middle of the first week there was definitely a light at the end of the tunnel of side effects that started during the first few days.

The second week, which I am just finishing up as I write this post, was significantly easier than the first, and I was consistently amazed at how well this diet keeps me full and energized for hours on hours.  I intend on keeping up with the diet for as long as I can, and hopefully see if I can incorporate some sort of occasional cheating with carbs, in an effort to make it more sustainable in the long run.  If anyone has any experience on keto and incorporating cheat days, please comment or message me!  Until then, stay tuned because I already have a TON of keto friendly recipes to write up 🙂

Stay fit and fresh, all!

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My First 3 Days on Keto

If you’re following me on Instagram, you might know that I recently started the ketogenic (keto) diet.  I had been thinking of trying this diet for a while now, but was never able to jump on board with its restrictive nature.  I am all about balance, especially finding the balance in a nutrition plan to incorporate all foods that you want to eat.  However, after doing some more research about the keto diet and reading a few articles that particularly caught my interest, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try.

What is the ketogenic diet?

Boiled down to the very basic of basics, the ketogenic diet is one in which you eat very few carbs (ideally 20g net per day, or 50g total), moderate protein, and high fat (>70% total daily calories).  Normally, the body uses the glucose it produces from carbs as a source of energy, because it is a quick and easily created source of sugar.  The body can alternatively use ketones for energy when glucose is in short supply, and these are produced from the breakdown of fats by the liver.  The goal of the ketogenic diet is to put your body into a state of ketosis, in which it is consistently producing ketones, and actually prefers to use ketones for energy instead of glucose.  Since ketones are produced by breaking down fat, your body looks towards your diet for fats it can use to produce ketones, but also to the fat you already have stored on your body.  This is why fat loss is a typical benefit of the ketogenic diet.  Other rumored benefits include stabilization of blood sugar, a decrease in sugar cravings, increased mental focus, and clearer skin.

My personal decision to try keto…

I think that one of the main reasons I recently have been seriously considering trying keto was that my regimen at the time (high protein, moderate carbs, low fat) was starting to feel very unsatisfying.  I tend towards low blood sugar, so I often feel insatiably hungry, but I was also starting to have unique cravings, mostly for fatty things.  And I wasn’t simply craving greasy foods, but I wanted nuts, avocados, and red meats – things I historically don’t enjoy indulging in.  I had to assume that my body needed something I wasn’t giving it enough of, namely healthy fats.  Also, the keto diet claims to stabilize blood sugar, so I thought maybe I could get those hunger pains under control once and for all!  Once I started doing more reading on the diet, I learned that it is known to increase energy/brain function throughout the day, and who doesn’t want to be more energized and productive?  Lastly, I have always been curious about how the keto diet would affect my body fat percentage and in general the way I look.

Once I had done the research that I considered to be sufficient, I started to get really excited about starting up.  I always enjoy a good challenge, and to say this would be a challenge is an understatement! The keto diet basically broke everything I understood to be true about nutrition, and it was almost the exact opposite of how I had been currently eating.  My entire grocery list would need to be revamped, and I’d have to figure out a whole new store of recipes.  Challenge accepted!

I decided to start on a Monday, and I had three days consecutively off from work (for the July 4th holiday), so I figured that would be enough time to get through the first few days of side effects while I was in the comfort of my own home.  And, I had a bacon egg and cheese bagel the day before (Sunday) so I felt as though this was the absolutely correct decision to make the Monday after.

Day 1 – Monday

I woke up this morning super excited, not only because I had the day off from work, but also because I had resolved to commit to a very involved and challenging nutrition regimen.  In addition to adopting the keto diet, I also decided that I wanted to try intermittent fasting as many days as possible.  For me, this meant choosing a roughly 8 hour window in which I would eat, and the other 16 hours I wouldn’t consume any calories to allow my body to process whatever I had previously put into it.

I wasn’t feeling too hungry, and hadn’t gone to the gym in the morning, so I wanted to try intermittent fasting on this first day.  My fridge was completely empty, so I went to the grocery store to stock both my fridge and pantry with keto friendly food and snacks.  Here’s what I bought:

  1. Eggs.  Lots of them.
  2. Avocados.  Lots of them.
  3. Chicken thighs
  4. Grass fed butter
  5. Brie cheese
  6. Mozzarella cheese
  7. Monterey jack cheese
  8. Cottage cheese
  9. Mini cucumbers
  10. Fresh baby spinach
  11. Lettuce
  12. Pecans
  13. Olive oil

groceries

I had my first meal at 1:30 PM and it was: 2 eggs, 1 oz monterey jack cheese, 100g avocado, and 14g (1tbsp) butter.  I also added salt, because I read that this diet tends to dehydrate you, and you should add salt to your food for electrolytes.  You don’t need to tell me twice to eat salt, so I seasoned to my heart’s content.  This was my first time eating butter and cheese in my eggs in YEARS and omg was it delicious.  It was like flavor overload.  It did feel heavy, though, and I almost couldn’t finish it all (and if you know me, you know how uncharacteristic this is).  As soon as I was done eating I was very aware of how full I felt, and wondered if I’d be hungry again in an hour, like I typically would be after a meal.

day 1 meal 1

Well, I was full for HOURS.  I did some chores and went to the gym for an incredible lift.  I didn’t need to eat again (not even a snack) before the gym, and my next meal wasn’t until 6:30 PM.  I made myself a salad with 100g of spinach, 100g cucumber, 100g avocado, 1 oz monterey jack cheese, 1 oz pecans, 1 tbsp olive oil, and 1 oz of brie on the side.  Added salt to this as well.  This was also as filling as it was tasty, and kept me full until my 9:30 PM bedtime snack of 1/2 cup of cottage cheese.

day 1 meal 2

Overall, this day wasn’t bad.  I wasn’t hungry at all between meals, food felt a bit heavy, and by the end of the day I was really tired.  I went to sleep pretty early in the hopes of sleeping off the grog.

Day 2 – Tuesday

Another day off from work, because it’s the Fourth of July!  And what better way to spend the holiday than planning out your meals for your new diet?  I intermittent fasted again today so I had my first meal (snack?) at 1 PM of 100g of a bratwurst.  Surprisingly, just that one sausage made me feel full and I didn’t have the urge to have another, or to keep snacking.  The brat held me until dinner, which was at 5 PM.  I put 100g BBQ’d skirt steak in a salad of 100g spinach, 100g cucumber, 100g avocado, 1 oz monterey jack cheese, with 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Meals today felt less heavy, but I wasn’t really feeling too great all day.  I had a headache and in the afternoon before dinner I was exhausted.  I actually reclined in my lawn chair and fell asleep for a bit outside.  I had a snack before bed at 9:30 PM of 100g avocado with a drizzle of 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 oz pecans, and 1 oz brie and was satisfied.  I spent some time logging my meals for the next day in my app, and then went to sleep pretty early.

day 2 bedtime snack

Day 3 – Wednesday

Last night’s time spent planning out my meals for the day went out the window when I woke up at 5:30 AM (on another day off from work, so I did NOT need to be up this early) and felt too awake and alert to fall back asleep.  I layed in bed trying to go back to sleep until around 7, but wound up getting out of bed because I was starving.  I ate breakfast at 7:30 AM, so I did not intermittent fast today, of 100g avocado, and 1 egg cooked in 14g (1 tbsp) of butter.  I’m still not sure why, but today I was consistently a little bit hungry all day.  I had a snack at 12:30 PM of 1/2 cup of cottage cheese and 1 oz pecans.  I had dinner at 5:30 PM of 100g leftover skirt steak and 50g leftover bratwurst in a salad of 100g spinach with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp parmesan cheese.  I had 100g avocado at 10:00 PM as a snack before bed.  Overall, this day was not extremely pleasant.  My mouth was dry, and I tracked my water all day to make sure I was getting enough (my goal was 1 gallon for the whole day).  I also had some muscle aches, which I read could be a symptom of dehydration and lack of electrolytes.  Today I also bought ketone strips to test the level of ketones in my body, and in the early afternoon my levels were “trace.”  By mid afternoon, I had drank most of my daily water goal, I was feeling less sleepy because of my snack, and the muscle aches had subsided a bit.  By the time I went to sleep my ketone levels were “small,” which is one step up on the scale from “trace.”  This was my first physical sign of progress (asides from my keto flu symptoms) so even though I wasn’t feeling so great, I was still pretty excited!

Before you decide that I’ve made an awful decision…

These three days sound terrible, right?  Headaches, muscle aches, fatigue… What was I thinking?  Well, before you let this write-up deter you from even considering this diet for yourself, rest easy knowing that it’s currently Saturday afternoon (day 6 of the diet), my keto flu symptoms have completely subsided, and I’m feeling great!  My next post will detail days 4-7 of my first week of keto, so stay tuned for that before drawing conclusions based on my experiences.

Lastly, here’s a few keto tips I’ve picked up on so far from my experience

  1. Do your research prior – I generally go overboard on research before I start something new.  That said, it’s definitely good to thoroughly understand a thing that you decide to participate in, especially if it involves health and nutrition.  There are things you’ll need to know and understand in order to make sure you’re doing the best thing for your body, since every single person is different.  Also, it’s good to understand the rules of the game, this way you’re not in the grocery store every minute googling ‘is [food item] keto friendly?’
  2. Know the symptoms and side effects – This goes hand in hand with doing your research, but it really helped that I got myself familiar with the side effects and symptoms of transitioning into this diet.  It made me way less nervous when the symptoms started to affect me, and it also kept me motivated because it meant I was on the right track (even though the symptoms were unpleasant)
  3. Get the test strips – It’s nice to see your progress in front of your eyes.  Again, do some research.  These test strips aren’t 100% accurate, and your results will vary depending on different factors (how much water you’ve drank, when you last worked out, what time of day it is, etc..)
  4. Log your meals and track your macros – With a diet like this, it’s incredibly important to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.  Your macro ratio has to be favorable for achieving ketosis, and in my opinion you need to count macros to achieve this.
  5. Log your entire day’s meals ahead of time – Especially in the very beginning.  Counting macros is a tedious process if you aren’t used to it, and it becomes even more tedious on this diet because you can’t easily borrow across the macro categories.  You need to hit your targets without going over your carbs, and it’s a game of Tetris to get you there.  It helps to log everything in advance, because if you don’t you’ll likely end up in a situation where it’s dinner time and you have 5g protein left, you’ve already gone over carbs, and you have 67g of fats left.  You could make yourself one lonely egg swimming in a pool of butter… or you could plan ahead and avoid this whole situation in the first place.
  6. Maintain flexibility – Don’t let the stigma on fat get into your head.  If you’re hungry, please eat.  Count your macros to make sure you’re at a comfortable number of calories.  But if you’re hungry and all that fits in your macros is half an avocado, then by all means eat it guiltlessly.
  7. Drink a TON of water – I can’t stress this enough.  A lot of the keto flu symptoms can be greatly reduced by just staying hydrated.
  8. Salt is your friend – I will be talking more about electrolytes in my next blog post (detailing the remaining days of the first week of keto) but it’s really important to make sure that, as you hydrate, you’re also replenishing your electrolytes.  Sodium is important, and it’s easy to get this by simply salting your meals.  I learned later that other electrolytes I was likely deficient in are potassium and magnesium, so I got supplements for those at my local health store.
  9. Do it on a weekend – Or whenever you have a couple of days off from work, if possible.  There are symptoms that you will deal with, and it’s a lot easier to deal with them if you are in the comfort of your own home.
  10. Stick to it – Achieving ketosis can be finicky, and the last thing you want is to do all of this and not actually achieve ketosis because of a small evening affair with some Oreos.

This has been a really long post, and there’s even more I could have said!  As always, DM, comment, or email me any questions you have! Stay tuned next week for a post detailing the second half of my first keto week!  (Also, while the rest of my family was sipping yummy summer cocktails, I made myself a refreshing keto friendly mocktail on the Fourth of July made with water, lemon juice, lime juice, and a splash of seltzer.  Yum, right?  It’s pictured below.)

Stay fit and fatty, all! 😉

fourth of july drink

Tips for Buying Lunch at Work

Tips for Buying Lunch at Work

Try as you might, are you still finding it difficult to prep your meals in advance for the week?  Or maybe you just really hate cooking and want to do it as little as possible.  Whatever the reason may be, I understand that preparing every meal of every day in advance isn’t a lifestyle that suits everyone.  To each their own!  If buying lunch is something that you do regularly, it’s so important to make well-informed and smart decisions to stay on track with  your goals.  I’ve been out of the buying lunch game for a while now, so I decided that for a week I would buy my lunch instead of bringing one from home, and use my experiences to come up with some tips and tricks for you on buying lunch.

As an extra little side experiment, I didn’t tell my team at work about my lunch-buying research, and wanted to see if/when they would become alarmed and concerned by my sudden change in routine.  I didn’t have to wait very long – it happened on Tuesday.

 So for my week of buying lunch, I tried to go to places that are chains, and places that are typical lunch spots. I wanted my experiences to be able to translate into general guidelines for you, but also provide specific and relevant examples.  Here’s what I wound up munching on this week for lunch:

  1. Poke (I went to a spot near my job, but all poke places are pretty similar so my tips here can be applied wherever it’s convenient for you)
  2. Sweetgreen
  3. Chipotle
  4. Stamina Grill (Ok so this one isn’t a chain, but it looked so good I had to try it)
  5. Buffet style deli (again, I went to a spot near my job, but my tips here can be applied to any buffet style deli)

Before I get into the details of each individual day, here’s a few things that I learned as general notes:

First, this might seem silly to even mention because it’s pretty obvious, but it’s so much easier to plan out your day when your lunch spot posts its nutrition facts online.  It’s important to assess the accuracy of the facts posted once you actually get your meal and can see what’s in it, but it’s so much easier to estimate when you have a starting point.  Also, don’t automatically assume that a place doesn’t have macro information online.  I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of restaurants lately that post nutrition information.  Best practice would be to Google ‘[Eatery name] nutrition information’ for any place you’re interested in eating at.  You might be surprised at which of your favorite restaurants actually post information!

Second, when you are estimating the calories/macros in a meal, break it down by each individual ingredient or component of the dish, rather than just trying to place a guesstimated number on the dish as a whole. When estimating, you’re already by default not really getting an accurate number, so by taking a general high level assessment of a dish as a whole and slapping a number on it, you’re almost positively going to be pretty far off.  Also, taking each ingredient/component individually ensures that you don’t accidentally leave something out in your consideration.

Third, keep the blinders ON at the checkout line.  I know there’s a ton of good stuff on those impulse shelves just begging to be purchased while you wait patiently on line to get rung up.  I fell victim to these impulsive purchases this week too…sometimes they’re so hard to resist!  If it’s not something you would normally eat, or if it’s not something you would have brought from home to go with your lunch, then don’t impulsively grab it while you’re waiting on line.

Fourth, when you’re at an eatery that offers ‘signature’ dishes as well as ‘build-your-own,’ it’s almost always better to make your own.  The signature dishes always have more ingredients than you’d have thought to order on your own and probably use dressings and sauces that you wouldn’t have otherwise selected.  Although they’re delicious, they have a ton of extra calories as opposed to if you were to build your own.  Best practice would be to skip directly to the build your own portion of the menu so you aren’t tempted by the signature dishes.

Fifth, on a similar note, best practice is that bowls are always better than wraps or burritos.  The wrap/tortilla adds a lot of avoidable carbs and fills you up with fairly empty calories.  I personally much rather get a bowl and fill it with protein and veggies instead.

Sixth, another best practice – plan your dinners in advance so you know exactly what macros you need to hit on lunch in order to meet your goals for the day.  Since lunches are going to be spontaneous on a day-to-day basis, dinners will need to be well planned.

Seventh, even if you’re buying lunch, you can always bring certain components from home to make it the most ideal meal.  For example, if you make your own salad dressings or dipping sauces, bring them with you and add your own flair to your store-bought lunch!  Also, if you’re having trouble hitting your protein, which was often a struggle for me this week, you can always bring some extra protein from home to supplement.

Eighth, check the restaurant’s menu prior to your arrival, and preferably right after you eat breakfast, so that you can settle on what you’ll order at a time that you’re not starving.  They say you’re not supposed to go the grocery store hungry, otherwise you’ll blow your life savings in one shop getting one of everything because you’re so excited to eat.  This follows that same idea.  Once you get to the eatery and smell all the delicious flavors in there, it’s going to be really difficult to settle on one of the more healthy options.  So check the menu early, and stick with your original decision once you get there.  It helped me to log into my macro tracking app in advance the lunch that I chose, because then it felt like a more final decision that would require more math and planning if I wanted to change it. And who has time for that, right?

Lastly, choose a solid rotation of 5-6 eateries that you like, and try to generally stick to those same places.  The more you eat at the same place, the better you will get at estimating the macros in your meal.  You’ll be able to track patterns about a certain place based on how your body reacts to its food over time.  To take an extreme example, if you eat at the same lunch spot every single day and are tracking your macros at a deficit but you aren’t losing body fat, it’s safe to assume that you’re underestimating for lunch.

Ok, with those general observations out of the way, let’s get to each day’s meals!

Monday – Pokegreen

poke 1

poke 3

I absolutely love sushi in general.  It’s really refreshing, especially now that it’s starting to get warmer out, and I like the fact that all ingredients are raw and visible.  The way sushi will get you, though, is with the rice and the sauces.  When I order my poke bowls, I always skip the rice and have them put my mix-ins over a bed of lettuce instead.  Also, instead of getting one of the mayo-based dressings, I will get Ponzu sauce, or plain soy sauce.

On this day, I ordered a bowl with lettuce as the base instead of rice, salmon and tuna as my proteins, and the following mix-ins: cucumber, edamame, corn, seaweed, and roe.  I chose Ponzu sauce as the dressing (but I even recommend soy sauce, which is equally as delicious and essentially free of calories).  I generally try to order as many low-cal veggies that a place like this has to offer, such as cucumber, celery, tomato, etc. And I will choose a maximum of two higher carb mix-ins like corn and edamame.   Once I got back to work, I googled each of the ingredients in my bowl to get an estimate on the nutrition facts of each.  I also estimated that they gave me a full serving of each fish (about 3 oz), and that an ice cream scoop (which is what they used for the mix-ins) is 1/4 cup.  After taking each ingredient into consideration, my meal came out to P – 71, C – 52, and F – 29.  It was a whopping 750 calories, which is almost double what I usually eat at lunch, so needless to say I was pretty full after.  Retrospectively, I thought about how I could have changed my order to have a more favorable spread of macros.  I decided that I could have done double tuna instead of half tuna half salmon, which would have saved a lot of fats.  I also could have done without the corn, which has a lot of carbs.  Lastly, I could have done soy sauce instead of the Ponzu.  Had I made those three simple alterations to my order, I’d have saved about 200 calories.

Tuesday – Sweetgreen

Sweet green

After yesterday’s accidental huge lunch, I decided to play it ‘safe’ and get a salad on Tuesday.  Believe it or not, I actually had never tried Sweetgreen before.  In general, the salad was tasty and the ingredients were fresh, but my experience here wasn’t the most ideal.  Maybe I had gone at an off-hour, but a bunch of popular ingredients weren’t restocked so I had to wait quite a bit of time for my salad to get made.  Also, maybe I’m spoiled but I really wish they had chopped the salad.  Either way, I enjoyed it and will go back again before jumping to any conclusions, since it was my first time trying it out.

I know I just mentioned that I wish Sweetgreen had chopped my salad.  When you read that, I’ll bet you said out loud, excitedly, ‘but Madeline, there’s a place specifically KNOWN for chopping their salads – you HAVE to try it!’  Let me take just an extra minute of your time here to talk about Chop’t.  I used to be an avid Chop’t goer, a few years back.  When I started counting my macros, though, I educated myself on the nutrition facts and ingredients in their salads, I had a really hard time getting any of their signature bowls to fit my diet plan.  I still wanted to go there, though, so I decided to just build my own salad, and it came out to literally $17.  That was my last time going to Chop’t.

I actually forget the exact ingredients I ordered in my salad since I didn’t write them down immediately afterwards.  I do remember that after looking up the nutritional information of corn yesterday, I decided to do without it in my salad.  For protein, I got chicken and an egg, and as dressing I just got a squeeze of fresh lime.  I estimated this lunch at P – 30, C – 20, and F – 12.

Wednesday – Chipotle

chipotle

This might come as a surprise to you, as it did for me when my fitness guru told me, but Chipotle is a macro counter’s heavenly dream.  The food is delicious, obviously, and you can walk out of there with literally any spread of macros that your heart desires.  It’s a great option for grabbing a quick bite out, and you don’t even need to plan much ahead of time for it since it’s so customizable.  If you aren’t aware of all of the customizable options at Chipotle, you’re absolutely doing it wrong.  If you remember one thing only from reading this post, I hope it’s the following customizability hacks at Chipotle that can totally save your macros:

  1. I’ll start small.  Omit any ingredient you don’t want.  Low carb day?  Skip the rice and beans altogether.
  2. Customizable scoop sizes!  I know it’s difficult to tell exactly how much is in each spoonful of goodness that goes into your plate, but you can request baby scoops, half scoops, large scoops, and double scoops of any ingredient you want.  The price of your lunch might vary, but at least you’ll be getting a meal you’re comfortable with.
  3. Unlimited veggies!  I don’t know why, but I always forget about the fajita veggies until my bowl has already passed along to the next assemblyman behind the counter, and then I have to ask them to go all the way back to the beginning of the process just to get me my veggies.  I’m the worst.  But seriously, don’t skip those veggies.  They’re really tasty, filling, and add some greens to your day.

I ordered my typical Chipotle order – burrito bowl, no rice, 1/2 scoop beans, double chicken, double fajita veggies, tomato salsa, corn salsa, and lettuce.  P – 75, C – 45, F – 17.  633 calories total, but they’re 633 calories I’m totally fine with.

Thursday – Stamina Grill

stamina grill

So if you’re not in this specific area, you unfortunately can’t go to the Stamina Grill.  This place was very cool.  Everything is made to order using fresh ingredients.  For wraps, the tortillas are whole wheat and low carb, and the french fries are baked instead of fried.  They also do juices and smoothies, but I didn’t get one of those so I can’t speak about them from experience.  On this day, I got the Stamina Wrap (chicken, spinach, and egg whites), and I added low-fat mozzarella cheese.  I used the internet to estimate the macros for the low carb whole wheat wrap and the lowfat mozzarella, and I eyeballed the chicken and egg whites once I got the wrap in order to try to get the portions right.  I settled on P – 45, C – 19, and F – 14 for the whole wrap.

Friday – Essen Deli

essen 2

Essen 3

I both love and hate buffet style deli lunches, mostly because they’re so hit-or-miss.  Generally speaking, they’re pretty good because you get to pick and choose exactly what you want to fill your plate with.  The downside is that you never really know what’s in each dish and how it’s prepared.  I was a little bit disappointed when I walked into this particular Essen location and perused the hot and cold buffet because there wasn’t any option that wasn’t already pre-seasoned and pre-dressed.  Usually at these buffet spreads, there’s at least something that’s steamed, and at least one salad option that you get to dress yourself.  Not here, though.  I definitely had the most difficulty on this day because it was just really difficult to estimate my macros.  A little trick that I do when trying to decide which options to choose when at these types of eateries is to take the serving spoon and move aside all the food in a plate until I can see the bottom.  If there’s a pool of oil down there, chances are the food is also covered in it.

I wound up choosing a salad as a base to my dish that was dressed with a sweet dressing and tossed with strawberries, almond slivers, and dried cranberries.  It was definitely a high carb/sugar salad, but I chose it because it was the only salad option that didn’t have a creamy salad dressing.  croutons, or a visible pool of oil in it.  I topped my salad with a generous portion of grilled chicken, and roasted cauliflower.  All of the veggies had oil on them, so I accounted for about 2 servings of olive oil for the veggies alone.  Overall this meal was really tasty, but probably the highest calorie salad I’ve had in years.

Let’s recap.

Buying lunch out definitely has its pros and cons.  The pros include that the food is certainly tasty, and you can have a nice variety every day.  Also, if you pack your lunch the night before like I do (instead of preparing every single container for the week at once) it does save a lot of time and energy spent cutting things up and planning/packaging a meal every night.  Oh, and so much time saved not washing dishes.  Lastly, there’s the social aspect of it.  I joked around earlier that my team was concerned with my sudden behavior change, but kidding aside it was really nice spending that extra 20-30 minutes with them while we walked to lunch and waited on line together.

The cons, though.  Buying lunch every day is way more expensive than prepping it yourself.  It also prevents you from being accurate in tracking your macros.  Lastly, buying food out is very high in sodium.  I rarely cook with any salt, so I was very aware of the amount of sodium in the lunches that I bought.

Overall, I enjoyed this experience.  And while I’ll never be the type of person at work to buy lunch every day, I will definitely remember that there are viable options out there if I do want to buy lunch occasionally but don’t want to totally blow my macros.

I hope this post was helpful!  What are your favorite lunch spots?  Do you run into the same difficulties I ran into this week?  I’d love to hear your experiences!

Stay fit and fueled, all!

essen 1

No Buns Challenge

No Buns Challenge

What is the No Buns Challenge, you ask?  It’s a thing that I completely made up whereby I try to eat sandwich/burger items all week without using bread or buns of any variety.

I’m going to immediately follow that description with the disclaimer that I don’t currently have any restrictions on my diet.  I eat dairy, meat, and gluten.  That said, the ‘No Buns’ challenge that I brought upon myself was motivated by a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve noticed that a lot of you are paleo/gluten-free, and I wanted to gain a little bit of insight into what those diets consist of.  I was by no means completely paleo or gluten-free for the week, but I did learn a lot about these diets, including what’s allowed and what’s restricted, and how difficult it can be to comply.
  2. I am currently in a pre-summer cut (nothing extreme, and I am not competing) which means a low carb and calorie deficit diet temporarily, so the no buns challenge was a fun way for me to out-of-the-box come up with some cool ideas for bread alternatives to help me get my beach bod in order.

In preparation for the challenge, for Sunday’s meal prep I used my George Foreman to grill up a dozen chicken burgers to get me through the week.  *Cue really dramatic photos of chicken burgers*

chick burg 1
These are regular.
chick burg 3
These are spicy.

I also got super into the burger theme for the week, and picked up some Bubbies Sauerkraut, Mother In Law’s kimchi, and pickles to have as sides/toppings for my burgers.  Without further adieu, let’s get into my meals for the week!

‘Bun’ 1 – Portobello Mushroom Buns

portobello 1

portobello 2

Whoever thought to use Portobello mushroom caps as burger buns was a genius.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t me.  All you need to make this into a reality is two portobello mushroom caps.  Simply remove the stems and scrape out the gills from underneath the caps, grill them up (I used my George Foreman again), and you’re ready to go!  I also added a sunny side up egg, swiss cheese, avocado, lettuce, and tomato to the burger, and had some kraut and a pickle on the side.  The really amazing thing about using the portobello mushroom cap as a bun is that it’s so juicy and flavorful that you don’t need any additional sauce or spread to liven up your meal.  The only downside is that this is a messy dish, and I resorted to finishing it up with a fork and knife.

‘Bun’ 2 – Collard Green Wrap

collard wrap 1

collard wrap 2

collard wrap 3

collard wrap 4

Let’s go ahead and add ‘wrapping a collard green leaf wrap’ to the list of things I’m not good at.  I made a huge mess with this one.  As messy as it was, though, it was still really delicious.  The collard greens leaf adds an earthy sweet flavor to the meal, and also gives it really good texture.  It’s also pretty easy to put together (minus the actual wrapping part) because you can use mostly raw veggies to fill it up.  I filled mine with a chicken burger, tomatoes, red peppers, mushrooms, avocado, kraut, kimchi, and goat cheese.

‘Bun’ 3 – Grain Free Cashew Bun 

cashew bun 3

THESE. ARE. AMAZING.  Seriously, I highly recommend.  The cashews in this recipe make for a subtly sweet bun, and the texture really mimics that of actual bread.  You can find my original inspiration for these buns here.

cashew bun.jpg

Ingredients:

  1. 1.5 cups raw cashews
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
  4. 1/4 cup of milk (any variety of regular or nut milk works)
  5. 4 tblsp melted butter or ghee (or coconut oil)
  6. 1/3 cup coconut flour
  7. 1/4 cup almond flour
  8. 1 tsp salt
  9. 1 tsp baking soda

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet in parchment paper.
  3. Place the cashews, eggs, vinegar, milk, and butter into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  4. Add the coconut flour, baking soda, almond flour, and salt, and blend again until smooth.
  5. Shape the dough into buns (I made 5 buns roughly the size of regular hamburger buns) using wet hands and place on your parchment lined baking sheet.  Wet hands ensures that the dough doesn’t stick to you, which ensures less mess.
  6. Bake for around 20 minutes.  Check on them around the 15-17 minute mark for firmness, and a golden brown color.  Once they’re firm and they have a nice color, they’re done.

In my recipe, I used skim milk and ghee, and my yield was 5 buns.  The resulting nutrition facts of each bun are as follows:

  • Protein – 13g
  • Carbs – 19g
  • Fats – 32g
  • Calories – 416

cashew bun 2

cashew bun 4

cashew bun 5

Ok, so these buns are fairly high in calories and fat, but the up-side is that they’re full of healthy fats from the cashews, and they have a decent amount of protein.  I’m going to mess around with this recipe to see if I can make it a bit more macro friendly, but as it stands, I still think they’re worth it.  I used one bun and sliced it in half to make a top and bottom.  To this burger, I added lettuce, tomato, kraut, and goat cheese, and had a pickle on the side.  Overall, the cashew bun provided the best flavor and the most similarity in texture and functionality to a regular bun, but was slightly dry.

‘Bun’ 4 – Collard Green Pinwheels 

collard pinwheel.jpg

Since I had so much trouble with the collard green wrap, I figured I would try a similar dish that was easier to assemble.  I layered the leaf with a chicken burger, tomato, peppers, and goat cheese (which was kind of the glue to hold it all together), and wrapped it up almost like a sushi roll. Then I sliced it up to make pinwheels.  The pinwheels were definitely easier to make and eat than the wrap.

‘Bun’ 5 – Paleo Parsnip Buns

parsnip 2

These had me a little bit nervous because when I tasted them, they were very sweet from the parsnips.  When paired with savory items, though, the sweetness actually works really well to balance out the flavors.  I smothered this burger with sautéed mushrooms and onions, and used two separate buns for a top and a bottom (I did not split them like I did the cashew bun).  I would also recommend pairing this with a sharp cheese.  You can find my original inspiration for these buns here.

Parsnip 1

Ingredients:

  1. 1/4 cup coconut flour
  2. about 2.5 oz of parsnips
  3. 1/4 cup any milk variety, or water
  4. 2 eggs
  5. Salt/pepper/seasonings of choice to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Use a food processor to blend the parsnips and coconut flour.  Once crumbly, add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
  3. Using damp hands, separate the dough and flatten into rounds on the parchment paper. If you make these too thin they might fall apart.  I made mine about 1/4 inch thick.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, or until dry on top and slightly browned on the bottom.

In my recipe, I used water, and my yield was 5 buns.  The resulting nutrition facts of each bun are as follows:

  • Protein – 3g
  • Carbs – 7.5g
  • Fats – 1.5g
  • Calories – 56

Overall, these were a close second to the cashew bun in functionality as a bun to hold together my burger, but they did keep the flavor of the parsnips (you can also use carrots), so you have to like that sweet flavor to make these work.  Although, as mentioned earlier, the sweetness of the bun was well-balanced if you put savory ingredients in between.  Or, you can probably play off the sweet flavor and use them in a dessert!

In Conclusion… 

I would consider the no buns challenge to be a success!  My definitive ranking of ‘buns’ from most favorite to least is as follows:

  1. Cashew Bun – Pro: Amazing taste, amazing texture, high functionality, and super filling; Con: High cal
  2. Portobello Bun – Pro: Amazing taste, super juicy, low cal; Con: Very messy
  3. Collard Green Wrap – Pro: Low cal, great crunchy texture; Con: Messy
  4. Paleo Parsnip Bun – Pro: High functionality, makes a nice clean burger; Con: Tastes very much like parsnips
  5. Collard Green Pinwheels – Pro: Low cal, great crunchy texture, less messy than the wrap version; Con: You can’t fit as much stuff into a pinwheel as you can a wrap.

I hope you try these no bun options next time you’re in the mood for a sandwich or a burger!  Tag me in anything you make from my page, I’d love to see what you wind up doing with the inspiration!

Stay fit and fresh, all!

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Meal Prep 101

Meal Prep 101

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing every single day?” is probably the number one question someone will ask me once they realize how extra I am about prep.  The truth is, there are a lot of common misconceptions about meal prep, and it’s not nearly as difficult or boring as it’s made out to be.  Sundays have actually become my favorite day of the week because I get to catch up on my Well+Good emails (one of the only email subscriptions I actually read), bookmark some cool new recipes and food trends, and plan out my week.

I started meal prepping when I was an intern at my now full time employer, after quickly learning that the ‘go out and buy lunch with the team every day’ lifestyle wasn’t going to work for me.  It started with just lunches, then I slowly started incorporating breakfasts as well.  Fast forward one year to full time employment during my first busy season, and meal prep included breakfast lunch, dinner, and every snack in between.  It was definitely daunting at first, sometimes overwhelming, and consistently time consuming.  But now, after almost three years of experience, the process has become way more efficient and hardly feels like a chore anymore.  It didn’t take long to get to this level of efficiency, and anyone can do it!  This is going to be a long post, so I’m going to split it into three parts:

  1. First, I’m going to clear the air on some of the most common prep myths, by answering the often sarcastic/hypothetical questions people typically ask me when they find out my prep schedule
  2. Second, I’m going to offer a few pro tips that I wished someone had told me a few years ago
  3. Lastly, I’m going to walk you through an example of an entire week’s prep (with pictures galore)

Let’s go!

Myths Debunked

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing every single day?”

I love food.  You can ask basically anyone who’s met me more than once – I am the type who lives to eat, not eats to live.  The idea of eating the same exact thing for every meal every day is an absolute nightmare.  Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to be repeating meals and foods, of course.  But prep doesn’t mean filling ten containers with the same exact spread of rice, grilled chicken, and baby carrots.  That said, this question makes the bold assumption that I eat the same thing day-in and day-out, which I definitely don’t.  What I generally try to do is prep two different meats (generally chicken and a fish), and two different veggies.  I don’t box all of my meals for the week on Sunday, but rather I throw all of the like items in separate containers, and box my lunches every night for the next day.  It doesn’t sound like much, but having the option every night to mix and match makes a huge difference.  Also, I always keep salad fixins in my fridge, so that’s basically a third veggie option to add to the rotation.

“Do you ever go out and have any fun?” 

Seriously, these are the things people ask me.  Yes, I go out.  Yes, I have fun.  Yes, I can be spontaneous.  For me, one of the benefits of prepping my meals is that I then have the flexibility in a social setting more than if I had wasted most of my macros for the day on an unnecessarily high-cal lunch.  A lot of purchased meals are full of fats and carbs that can be easily avoided and recycled on something more fulfilling.  Even salads can be deceiving!  (Check the nutrition facts of that Chop’t salad before landing on Chop’t as a healthy lunch option at work).  By making your own lunches (and bfast and dinner), you are controlling exactly what you’re putting into your body, which is ideal for anyone who has fitness and general health goals.

How do you get enough food on Sunday to last the whole week? 

Ok, this question is very valid.  Generally speaking, my cooked chicken or turkey lasts all week without any problems.  If I prepare fish, I will either freeze it to have later in the week, or eat it all within a couple of days of preparing.  Cooked veggies typically last about half the week, so I try to finish those up by the end of Wednesday.  I also usually buy additional veggies that last the full week (aka my salad fixins, alluded to above), like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, so that I can use those once I’m all out of cooked veggies.  Fruit all has differing shelf lives, so I typically eat the more time sensitive fruits earlier in the week (blueberries, strawberries), and save the more resilient for later in the week (bananas, apples, citrus).  It also helps to have things like Greek yogurt, nuts, protein powder, oats, and nut milk on-hand for a quick and satisfying meal in a pinch if all else fails.

Some Pro Tips: 

Figure out a technique you’re good at and stick to it.  Don’t reinvent the wheel every week.  Are you really comfortable with baking your chicken in the oven?  Using a slow cooker?  Grilling it on the stovetop?  Do that every week then.  Obviously you can vary it up sometimes, but by doing something consistently that you are most comfortable with, you will become exponentially more efficient.  The variety in your prep comes with how you season your food, not necessarily the technique you use to prepare it.

Know your kitchen appliances, and make sure you have the proper gear.  I love to make my own nut butters, as well as baked goods as treats for the week, so staple appliances that I use every single week are my KitchenAid hand mixer and food processor.   I also recently got a Black + Decker slow cooker that I absolutely love.  It’s so important to have the proper tools in your kitchen if you want to conduct an efficient prep.

Have your grocery list planned out well in advance, and stick to one main grocer.  I have a note in my phone dedicated to prep ideas and my grocery list that I am incrementally adding to all week.  I have a list of staple items that generally don’t change from week to week (nut milk, Greek yogurt, eggs), and then a list of ideas that I stumbled on during the week that struck my interest to include in my prep.  Come Saturday or Sunday morning, I usually take these ideas, put the recipes side by side, see which ones have a few  main overlapping ingredients, and that’s how I narrow down my ‘ideas’ list into a list that’s reasonably executable.  Also, try to visit the same grocery store every week.  I fly through my grocery shopping in less than 20 minutes because I basically have the floor plan committed to memory.

Last Week’s Prep 

1 - all groceries
Yes, I recycled this image from the top of this post.

Prep officially begins at the grocery store.  The four main categories of necessities for the week are: protein, fruit, veggies, and snacks.  This week, my protein was chicken; my fruits were bananas, apples, oranges, and plums; my veggies were tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, and cucumbers; and my snacks were cashews.  Already in my fridge/pantry were: Greek yogurt, almond milk, limes, and a sweet potato.

The first thing I do is prep my protein, because this generally takes the longest.  This week, I cooked my chicken with tomatoes and portabella mushrooms in my slow cooker.

2 - chicken groceries
Chicken (3.29 lbs), tomatoes, and mushrooms
3 - chicken groceries
It’s all about the angles, right?
4 - cut tomatoes
Quarter the tomatoes…
5 - tomatoes in slow cooker
…and layer them at the bottom of the slow cooker.
6 - chicken in slow cooker
Cube the chicken and layer it on top of the tomatoes.
7 - spices
The spices I used are pink Himalayan salt, cumin, paprika, chipotle chili pepper, and black pepper.
8 - meat spiced
As you can see, I use my spices generously.
9 - liquid aminos
Drizzle liquid aminos to your heart’s content.  (Alternatively, you can use soy sauce and/or sriracha)
10 - mushrooms in slow cooker
Mushrooms go on top.
11 - finished chicken
Five hours later… delicious protein for the entire week! 3.29 lbs of chicken purchased (aka prior to trimming) made 12 roughly 4 oz servings.

While the protein is cooking, I prep my veggies and snacks.  This week, I decided to go with salads, so since there were no veggies to cook, I prepped two snacks.  The first was homemade cashew butter.  The recipe for this is literally just blended cashews, and I was originally going to rewrite the steps here, but I enjoyed reading the how-to article that I found so much that I encourage you to read it as well!

12 - cashews
Beautiful, glorious, raw, unsalted cashews
13 - blended cashews
About 25 minutes later
15 - cashew butter in spoon
Creamy and delicious homemade cashew butter!

My next snack was inspired by the Tastemade Snapchat discover page, and was taught by Jen of @JustEatLife (Twitter) and @JenEatsLife (Instagram).  These candied orange peels were clutch this week, satisfying my sweet tooth in a [possibly delusional] guilt-free way.  Either way, they were absolutely delicious.  Get the recipe here.

16 - oranges17 - orange peels19 - candied peels

And there you have it, a week’s worth of meals.  So, a typical day this week consisted of two servings of chicken and salad; fruit, protein shakes, and Greek yogurt as breakfast/snacks throughout the day; and a few of the candied orange peels after dinner as some dessert.  Easy, right?

Did I answer your questions?  Leave me a comment and let me know!  Head over to my Instagram for even more recipes and advice, and message/comment anything you’d like to see more of 🙂

As always, stay fit and fab all!

18 - orange jar

Blended to Perfection – The Do’s and Dont’s of Smoothies

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A good smoothie can be the perfect breakfast, snack, or pre/post-gym pick-me-up.  Prepared carelessly, however, and it can be a source of unnecessary calories, sugar, and fat in your diet.  Here are a handful of tips and tricks that I follow religiously when I think about taking out that blender.

When thinking about what you would like your blended perfection to taste like, you should be thinking about the fruits that will go into it.  Then, you will need to choose a base, or liquid, to supplement the fruit.  Lastly, you’ll decide whether or not you want to add some dairy or extra ingredients to boost the protein content of your drink.

Picking and choosing which fruits to center your smoothie on can be difficult.  Some fruits, such as oranges and apples, can be high in sugar content, and hold most of their health benefits in pulp and skin, respectively, and might make it difficult to blend your smoothie to perfection.  I like to stick to berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, to name a few), because they are low/medium in sugar content and are high in antioxidants.  I also like to use kiwis, because though they are high in sugar content, they provide intense flavor even with a small amount of fruit, and are high in Vitamin C.  Lastly, I love bananas, which are high in potassium and low in sodium.  Beware, though, because bananas are surprisingly high in sugar.

With regard to choosing your base liquid, just keep an eye on the sugars in fruit juices.  I tend to stay away from all fruit juices and simply add ice, water, or skim milk.

The decision to add dairy to your creation is entirely up to you.  You can combine your base and dairy components by adding milk (preferably skim.)  You could choose to do without dairy altogether for a very light (but not very filling) snack, or you could add low or non-fat plain yogurt or kefir.  I like to add plain yogurt to boost the protein content of my smoothies and keep myself full for longer.  Sometimes I’ll add a little bit of honey or vanilla extract for extra flavor.  For a bonus protein boost, you can also add tofu, natural peanut butter, almond butter, soymilk, or almond milk.  Make sure that whenever you add dairy or a protein boost, it is a natural product, and it is nonfat or low-fat, and unsweetened/unflavored.

Protip: Craving the creamy milkshake consistency but want to ditch the calories of sugary and fatty frozen yogurt and ice cream? Freeze your fruit! I know it’s not the same thing… but after a while you’ll hardly notice a difference, and might even grow to love it.

A quick word on adding honey or sugar to your blended creation: Do this last, as fruit tends to be very sweet on its own.  A lot of times you won’t need to add any extra sweeteners, and doing so prematurely only adds excess calories and sugar that can easily be avoided.

Learn more tips about smoothie making here, here, and here.  Also, more about health benefits of certain fruits here, and here.  In addition, The World’s Healthiest Foods is a great resource if you need quick reference of nutritional facts for fruits, veggies, and more.

Recipes

I am always looking for unique smoothie recipes because I get tired of having the same smoothies over and over.  Here are a few of my favorites that I discovered this summer.

Magic Bullet

IMG_7601

First off, I use my Magic Bullet for all of my smoothies, with the 2 cup attachment and the four pronged blending blade.

Green Tea, Blueberry, and Banana

Green Tea Ingredients

Green Tea

This first one, and my personal favorite, is a green tea, blueberry, and banana smoothie. The ingredients include:

  1. 1/4 cup water
  2. 1 green tea bag
  3. 1 tsp. honey (you can easily forego the honey for this one)
  4. 1/2 cup blueberries
  5. 1 banana
  6. 3 ice cubes
  7. Skim milk (fill to top, or fill line of your blender)

Heat the water to a boil and steep the tea bag for approximately 3 minutes.  Then dissolve honey in the steeped tea.  Blend together fruit, ice, and milk until smooth.  Then blend in tea mixture.  Lastly, pour, and enjoy!

Banana Ginger

Banana Ginger Ingredients

Banana Ginger

This one is a unique blend of flavors, though is a little more tedious to prepare.  Also, if you’re not sure if you like ginger, make a small portion of this one for your first time.  The ingredients include:

  1. 1 banana
  2. 3/4 cup plain yogurt (I use Dannon)
  3. 1 tbsp honey
  4. 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  5. 1 to 2 drops of vanilla extract (Seriously, no more than this. Remember, you only put a spoonful in an entire cake.)
  6. 3 ice cubes

Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour, and enjoy!

Protip: Though delicious, the ginger makes this one not so great to have as a pre-gym snack, so save it for after the gym or for breakfast in the morning.

Strawberry, Kiwi, and Banana

Strawberry Kiwi Ingredients

Strawberry Kiwi

  1. 1 banana
  2. 1 kiwi, sliced
  3. 6 strawberries
  4. 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I use Dannon)
  5. 1 or 2 drops of vanilla extract
  6. Water (fill to top, or fill line of your blender)

Blend ingredients until smooth, pour, and enjoy!

Protip: There is no easy way to peel a kiwi.  Try this nifty method, or just peel it with a potato peeler like me.

For more recipes, check out these 20 Super Healthy Smoothies.

Stay fit and fruity, all!