Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Lesson in Mindfulness

From the book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillmentby Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph. D.:
After three years of study, the novice monk arrives at the dwelling of his teacher.  He enters the room, bursting with ideas about knotty issues of Buddhist metaphysics, and well-prepared for deep questions that await him in his examination.
"I have but one question," his teacher intones.
"I am ready, master," he replies.
"In the doorway, were the flowers to the left or to the right of the umbrella?"
The novice retires, abashed, for three more years of study.
Aside from being a great lesson for all of life, being more mindful of the present when it comes to health behaviors can make a world of difference.

How big was the serving size of pasta you just ate?  Can you taste every individual spice your grilled fish was seasoned with?  Is there a cell phone or a blaring TV competing for your attention during your time at the gym?  Can you feel every muscle properly engaged throughout each repetition?

Quiet the outside noise and be more mindful of what you are working to achieve.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Macgyver-Style Density Training

I realized this month I will be traveling to three different states all within a two week period.  Talk about a training challenge.  Plates and barbells don't pack easily but I'm still determined to do something even if it's not the same intensity as my regular routine.  Progression under these circumstances is a challenge.  Accepting a level of maintenance is more realistic.

The first of my travels brought me to sunny Florida to celebrate Christmas a week early with my parents.  With hardly any equipment available I had to get Macgyver-esque and use whatever was available to me.  While I'm sure he would've fashioned my parents' golf cart into a squat rack complete with a cable lat pull down, I settled for using two chairs and a beach towel.

Macgyver Image

This session involves density training which is when you try and complete as many sets of an exercise at a fixed amount of reps for a given period of time.  It is great for burning fat and building muscle.  Here, I paired exercises together, used 8 repetitions, and went to work for 10 minutes per pair.  For the first pair, I completed 8 inverse rows followed by 8 rear foot elevated split squats on my right leg and another 8 on my left leg.  I repeated that sequence as much as I could for a full 10 minutes (I was able to do 6 sets of each).  Then I did another 10 minutes with the second pair (I did 7 sets of each).

Alternate the following two exercises and complete as many sets as possible in 10 minutes.
Rest for 2 - 3 minutes, then follow the same format for the next two exercises.
** Access to a bar or TRX would be ideal for this.  If you use chairs, make sure they're sturdy and won't tip over from your body weight. 

Don't forget to warm up properly and pace yourself according to your fitness level.  Remember, the hardest part of any workout is deciding to start.  You never regret exercising after you've already done it. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

Recommended Reads - December 9th

Happy Friday!  I hope you all had a healthy week and are staying sane with all the holiday prep.  Here's a couple things to help you stay in the right frame of mind.

Ladies: Tips to Make You More Comfortable in the Weight Room
Jen Comas Keck gives some great ideas to make the weight room feel less intimidating for us ladies.  While her tips do seem quite simple, put them all together and see how your confidence grows.

Crispy Asparagus Spears
This is how I will trick my future children into eating asparagus.  That is all.

University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management Flash Mob
Are you tired of flash mobs yet?  No?  Good.  Here's one to put you in the holiday spirit.  I wish this happened to me when I was studying for finals.

Proud To Be A Penn Stater
I posted previously about the Proud to be a Penn Stater group that was trying to raise $500,000 for RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network).  I am happy to report, they reached their goal after this past weekend!  Thank you to everyone who donated.  This group is nothing short of amazing and their efforts are far from over.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Body Weight Blitz

I know this time of year is tough.  Schedules are tight and priorities are elsewhere.  I myself will be making two trips this month, one to Florida to see my parents and one to Pennsylvania to see the rest of my family.  While I am over-the-moon-excited for both, I can't help but think how the holiday travel will throw a wrench into my normal training. 

If you're in the same boat, accept that you may not be able to complete your training to its maximum potential this time of year.  But also refuse to cave in to an "all or nothing" attitude.  Something is always better than nothing.

Here's a quick body weight circuit that requires minimal equipment which makes it perfect for travel or time crunches.  Go through and complete 3 reps each of A through E.  Repeat, this time with 6 reps.  Then 9, then 12.  Finally, work back down the ladder and do another 12, 9, 6, and 3.  Try to complete the entire series as quickly as possible.

A.  Push ups
B.  Squat Jumps
C.  Rows*
D.  Glute Bridges
F.  Tuck Jumps**

I did TRX rows and elevated my feet on a chair for the glute bridges.  I completed it all in 15:06.  The first round or two were definitely deceiving.  It isn't the most challenging thing I've ever done, but it's great if you're in a pinch.  If you have access to more equipment, add in the extra resistance to increase the intensity.

* Rows are tricky because they require some sort of equipment or special set up.  You could do dumbbell rows as shown above, inverted rows if you have a bar to hang from, or TRX rows which is what I did.

** Stand with your elbows by your side, bent at 90 degrees, and palms facing the floor.  Jump and tuck the knees up to touch your hands.  Be sure to take off and land from both feet at the same time.

Don't forget to check with your physician before starting an exercise program.  Always include an adequate warm-up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recommended Reads - December 2nd

Can you believe it's December already?  The end of the year always sneaks up so fast it seems.  I propose that when we turn the clocks back an hour in October, we actually turn them back a full month to prevent this.  Brilliant, right?  While we all wait for that to happen, here's a few great articles to read in the meantime.

The Glute March
This is such a simple exercise that can be done practically anywhere.  If you are stuck behind a computer all day, I can't stress how important this is.  Take a break from your desk and throw a couple in here and there.  Sitting for long periods of time results in weak glutes and tight hips, which can manifest in low back pain among other things.  Start marching to activate your glutes and open up your hips!

A Big Fat Mistake
In a nutshell, here's why I don't shy away from beef, pork and egg yolks.  Try focusing your dietary efforts toward cutting back on refined carbohydrates and see what happens.

The No New Gifts Holiday Challenge
This is definitely a bold challenge.  I'm not sure I could accept it 100 percent, but everyone should make some effort when holiday shopping to think beyond what can be wrapped in pretty boxes and placed under the tree.  Plan a special holiday date with your significant other, travel to see family (thanks for the plane tickets, Mom and Dad!), or donate to your favorite charity.  The best things in life are the ones money can't buy.

Have a great weekend!

Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Homemade Cole Slaw

This week's recipe has a bit of an identity crisis.  I wanted to make something with a slow cooker because it's just a "slow cooker time of year".  After settling on pulled pork sandwiches with homemade barbecue sauce, I struggled to find a side dish.  Cole slaw is a staple that goes with anything barbecue so that was the winner, despite it feeling more like a summer picnic dish.

Homemade barbecue sauce is very simple to make and it allows you to eliminate the preservatives and excess sugar from bottled brands.  Pairing it with a leaner pork tenderloin, rather than a pork shoulder, helped reduce the fat content.  I snuck some brussels sprouts in my cole slaw to up the nutritional content.  Trust me, no one will notice.  Lastly, instead of dressing it with mayo and whatever other gunk normally goes on cole slaw, I topped it with a oil and vinegar dressing.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Homemade Barbecue Sauce
  • 2 lbs pork tenderloin
  • 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup of molasses
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
Season pork with salt and pepper and place pork in a slow cooker.  Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour over pork.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.  When done, use forks to shred pork.  Serve on rolls with preferred condiments.

Homemade Brussels Sprout Cole Slaw
  • 4 cups cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 cups brussels sprouts, finely shredded (stems and outer leaves removed)
  • 2 cups carrots, shredded
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
Combine cabbage, brussels sprouts, and carrots in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and honey.  Pour over vegetables and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The tailgate posts will be on hiatus after this week.  I'll be sure to whip up something special once the bowl games start.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't Fall for the Smooth-Talking Fitness Industry

Nothing makes my blood pressure rise like inadvertently stumbling across an infomercial selling the latest and greatest fitness promise guaranteed to change your body in less than ten minutes a day.  I'm not sure what bothers me more, the fact that the majority of their claims wouldn't hold a candle when tested by quality, respectable fitness professionals or that the mainstream public falls under their spell and buys millions of units of crap every year.

Imagine my delight when my latest professional publication from the American Council on Exercise boasted the headline "Does the Mega-selling Shake Weight Live Up to the Hype?"  They featured an independent study on the effectiveness of the ridiculous-looking, gyrating dumbbell sweeping the nation by storm.  Even though it would only likely be personal satisfaction I'd receive from what the results were bound to reveal, I immediately turned to the article and started scanning through.

"...hottest selling product on TV..."
"...cure for flabby arms..."
" to 'increase upper-body muscle activity by up to 300 percent'..."
"...researchers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse tested muscle activity in 16 subjects when doing the Shake Weight DVD compared to traditional weight exercises using the same size weight..."
"...on average total muscle activity was 66 percent higher with the Shake Weight exercises..."
"...subjects' ratings of perceived exertion were also significantly higher for the Shake Weight..."
Wait, timeout.  Did I read that correctly?  They actually found the Shake Weight to be more effective than traditional weights?  That can't be right.

In utter confusion I wondered if the earth truly is flat, while the mainstream public probably would've been dialing "1-8-0-0" and simultaneously digging for their credit card.

I went back and combed through the details again.  The Shake Weight is a 2.5 pound (female version) and 5 pound (male version) weight with springs.  The DVD takes you through a series of four isolation exercises for the biceps, triceps, shoulders, and chest.  To compare, subjects did equivalent isolation exercises for the biceps, triceps, and chest using a 2.5 pound or 5 pound traditional dumbbell.  They also performed a shoulder exercise, however this was a compound movement meaning it is a multi-joint movement instead of single-joint. 

Of course the Shake Weight would out-perform the traditional weight!  They're both the exact same load, except the Shake Weight has an extra dynamic element.  That still doesn't make it a touted piece of equipment guaranteed to get you your dream body in 30 days or less.

Here's a little secret to help you sort though the bogus lines the fitness industry feeds you:

What they don't tell you about their product is more important than what they do.

Because the ACE article summarized an independent study, it included far more detail than what would be presented in a typical infomercial.  However, it still requires you to read between the lines and draw your own conclusions.

The missing piece is that a 2.5 or 5 lb dumbbell is not a challenging enough load for those exercises for the majority of people.  Ladies, YOUR HANDBAG WEIGHS MORE THAN THAT!  You've lifted small children heavier than that.  With one arm.  While going up stairs.  And guys, if you can lift a case of beer, you can lift more than five pounds.

Imagine what the results would be if you used a more appropriate sized weight.  Better yet, what if you ditched the isolation movements all together in favor of compound movements like squats, lunges, push-ups, rows, glute bridges, etc?  Not only would these exercises would produce far more muscle activity, they would create more authentic movement that better translates to real-life activity.  Such as lifting a small child with one arm up stairs.

Next time you're ready to hop on the bandwagon of the next big thing, stop and think.  There is a reason why these products come and go.  Because the results they do produce don't last long-term.  Be a wise consumer and take the claims with a grain of salt.

There is also a reason why the fundamental basics of fitness have such strong staying power.  Because they do produce results.  Keeping it simple is often better than trying to reinvent the wheel.  Don't confuse simple and easy though.  Lift heavy weight, use primary movement patterns, and push hard. 

Every minute you spend believing the inflated claims is a minute not spent getting real work done.  Those are precious minutes wasted when it's your health at stake.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Recommended Reads - Nov 25th

I hope you're all having a great holiday week and enjoying the extra long weekend!  If you are cozying up at home today instead of braving the Black Friday crowds, here's a few great links to check out:

111 Lessons Life Taught Us
I truly believe health starts from the inside out.  This is a great collection of life lessons to give us perspective, something everyone could use every now and again.  Go through them all in one sitting or read a new one each day.
Redefine Your Fitness Routine
Results Fitness, owned by Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, is one of the most successful gyms in the country.  They're on a mission to change the way fitness is done so they're always eager to share their secrets.  Here, they share the format of how they set up their training sessions.  Do you train like this?  If not, are you getting the outcomes you want?  Maybe it's time to try a new approach.  There's a reason why they're called 'Results' Fitness.

Pumpkin Protein Pancakes
Here's a great recipe in case you have any extra pumpkin leftover after Thanksgiving.  Be sure to make a big batch.  The leftovers are just as good reheated!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beef and Roasted Veggie Nachos

Nachos are the world's most perfect food, in my opinion. Aside from chocolate. A local restaurant makes THE best nachos I've ever had, short of being in Mexico. One of the unique things they do is add roasted peppers and corn to the beef. What a wonderful way to increase the vegetable content in an already snack-worthy food. Topping each chip individually ensures a bit of protein in every bite and makes it easy to pass around on a platter.

Beef and Roasted Veggie Nachos
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 can fat free refried beans
  • 1/2 medium green pepper
  • 1/2 medium red pepper
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 package of taco seasoning
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 40 multi-grain tortilla strips

Heat broiler to 500 degrees.  Cut peppers intro strips and onions into slices.  Toss peppers, onion, and corn in olive oil.  Spread veggies on a baking sheet and place under broiler for 15 minutes, or until slightly charred.  Let cool, then cut into smaller bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, season beef with salt and pepper and brown in a large skillet on stove top.  When done, add taco seasoning and water and mix well.  Next, combine refried beans with beef.  Lastly, add the roasted veggies.

Scoop spoonfuls of mixture on tortilla chip and arrange on a baking sheet.  Top each with shredded cheese then bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese melts.  After baking, top with avocado and cilantro.  Serve with sour cream and salsa.

This is only a fraction of what the recipe yields.
Also, I'm getting a new camera soon so no more black blurs in the upper left. :)

It's the final week of regular play for Penn State.  Should they beat Wisconsin they'll earn their way to the inaugural Big Ten Championship. 
Let's go, State!

Penn State Alumni Insider

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chipolte Honey Glazed Wings

A tailgate party without wings is wrong.  Just flat out wrong.  While traditional buffalo is great, I tend to enjoy more unique flavor combinations.  This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Marcela Valladolid's Fresh Mexico cookbook.

I reduced the amount of butter used and made sure to use natural honey to keep it lighter.  I also used different spices to create the heat that perfectly balances the sweet.  The pecans not only add a crunch, but also a dose of healthy fats.  Serve with a side of mixed greens topped with avocado and fresh salsa and you've got yourself a complete meal!

Chipolte Honey-Glazed Wings
  • 1 lb wings and drumettes
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp ground chipolte pepper
  • 1 tbsp mince chipolte pepper in adobo sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small saucepan combine butter, honey, and nuts.  Heat over medium until the mixture bubbles.  Remove from heat and add vinegar, Worcestershire, garlic powder, ground chipolte, and minced chipolte.  Arrange chicken on a baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Brush wings with glaze and bake for 25 minutes or until done.  Feel free to brush with additional glaze throughout the cooking process.  Enjoy!

Last week's Penn State game against Nebraska was the most amazing game I've ever seen for reasons that had nothing to do with football.  This week we're on the road at Ohio State.  Fight on and keep the bigger message close.

We (still) Are...Penn State!

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We (still) Are

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recommended Reads - Nov 18

I don't need to tell you there is a ton of health and fitness information available at the mere click of a mouse.  Some of it is solid and a lot of it is bogus.  I'm going to help you weed through the mess in a new weekly series.  Here are some great resources to check out:

Girls Gone Strong
"Girls Gone Strong" is an awesome movement of some standout women in the fitness industry trying to change the face of female training.  One-arm push ups, 300+ lb deadlifts, weighted pull ups - they can do it all.  Lately, I've found myself thinking of them when I struggle through my last reps.  Their group is still in the initial stages of development, but I have no doubt they will do great things.  And hopefully contribute to "cardio bunnies" being added to the endangered species list.

A Guide to Pull Ups
One of the GGS masterminds, Marianne Kane, has a great post on how to conquer the pull up.  I always seem to get stuck at 5 consecutive pull ups.  Recently, I've decided to make a concerted effort to improving this.  Goals are supposed to be specific and have an end date so what better present to myself than to do 10 consecutive pull ups for my birthday on February 1st?

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
For those of you who want to gag at the mere thought of brussels sprouts, I encourage you to try this recipe.  They go down so much easier when chopped fine and the little bit on pancetta adds great flavor.  In my latest batch, I even chopped up some leftover asparagus that I wasn't sure what to do with and it was equally as delicious.

Proud PSU for RAINN
While this is a little off topic, it is something that has been weighing heavy on my heart lately.  As a proud Penn State alum who bleeds blue and white, I've been changed by the past few weeks.  It would be a great disservice to the victims if the Penn State family didn't take away some valuable lessons from this situation, the best one described by alum LaVar Arrington as "a call to duty". 

Proud to Be a Penn Stater has answered that call.  It is a grassroots network of alumni, students, parents, and fans.  Their goal is to raise $500,000, approximately $1 for every living PSU alum, for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.  Since their website went live just over a week ago, over 10,000 supporters have raised over $400,000!  In addition, RAINN has reported their national hotline usage has increased by 54% and they have acquired over 400 new volunteers at local chapters.

Please help answer the challenge and make even the smallest of donations.  Let's hit $500,000 this weekend and change some lives.  Sexual violence reaches far beyond Penn State.  It's time to channel all the heartbreak, disgust, anger, and judgement into something positive. 

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Does Weight Carry So Much Weight?

I always joke some day I'm going to write a book some day about all the crazy things I see working in fitness centers over the years.  By far, some of the strangest behaviors involve the love/hate relationship with the scale.  Usually it's little love and a lot of hate.

I see those who insist on habitually weighing themselves daily.  Upon walking out of the locker room they make a beeline for it, resisting any and all distractions until the fate of the day is revealed.

Better yet is the practice of those who weigh themselves before doing an hour of unfocused, haphazard cardio.  As soon as their time is up or the display says 500 calories burned, they rush back over to weigh in again as if weight loss is as instantaneous as the cardio equipment transmitting a signal to the scale.

They move the scale four feet to the left in hopes of shaking another pound out of it.  They argue "that can't be right" or "that's not what my scale at home says".

Sometimes I want to giggle, other times I just shake my head.  If it's a particularly rough day I may contemplate throwing the damn thing in the middle of the street for passing cars to have their way with it just so I don't have to be witness to any more of these pointless scale rituals.

The reasons people feel the need to weigh themselves so often varies.  Usually they want to see some sort of instant gratification from all the hard work they're putting in.  But nine times out of ten, it ends the same.

Disgust.  Frustration.  Defeat.  And just like that their focus, motivation, and dedication diminishes.

Why do we hold so much value in one number at all?  It's not like we walk around with a sign on our chest displaying it for all to see.  So if no one else is privy to that information, why do we allow it to hold our emotions captive?

Start by shifting the focus to the elements that aren't measurable by the scale. Your increased energy levels, your ability to move pain-free, your decreased stress levels, or how easily your jeans button.

If you are meticulous by nature and need something to measure, track your behaviors before the results.  Focusing on the outcome more than the process of how to get there is like putting the cart ahead of the horse.  Did you get three or more training sessions in this week?  Are you eating a lean protein source with every meal?  Have you been replacing caloric beverages with water?  When these behaviors are practiced efficiently, the results tend to fall into place.

Don't get me wrong, the scale has a time and a place.  It is one way to help measure success.  It helps us do damage control quickly if the number starts to rise in the wrong direction.  It can be a wake up call for those who need it.  But it is one of many numbers that contribute to an overall health profile.

Scale weight is just one piece of the puzzle.  Don't allow weight to hold so much weight and neglect the rest of the pieces.  You need them just as much to finish the overall picture.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

As a life-long chocolate lover, I can't believe I've been neglecting healthy desserts in this tailgate series!  To make amends, here are some super easy and delicious pumpkin cookies.  Flour is replaced with ground oatmeal.  The pumpkin not only provides antioxidants and fiber, but it keeps the cookies moist and gooey.  I struggled over what to replace the sugar with for awhile.  Then I thought, oh whatever, leave the sugar.  They are cookies after all. 

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1 plus 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Finely blend 1 cup of oats in a blender or food processor.  Leave remaining 1/2 cup oats whole, unless you prefer a more cake-like cookie.  Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Place spoonful amounts on cookie sheet.  Note:  Cookies won't melt down much so you may want to shape before baking.  Bake 15 minutes.  Recipe yields approximately two dozen cookies.

I did half the batch with chocolate chips.  Next time, they're going in the whole batch!

Normally I end my tailgate posts by cheering on PSU to beat whoever they are playing on Saturday.  In light of this week's events that have devastated State College, it seems inappropriate to focus on anything but the victims and their families.  Please support the Penn State community to "Blue Out" Nebraska and raise awareness for child abuse. 

I have unwavering faith the Penn State I know and love will heal, grow, and rise above this tragedy to do great things for this cause.  From the darkest moments will shine the brightest lights.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hot Spinach and Bean Dip

Before I unveil this week's tailgate recipe of deliciousness, I need to mini-rant for a second.  I am fully aware my photography skills and subsequent camera equipment is sub-par and for some reason, my camera decided it wanted to test my patience.  Not only has it been eating through batteries faster than a ten year old inhales their candy on Halloween, but it decided that fully opening its shutter is just far too taxing.  So please disregard the black corners in all my photos.  It is not paranormal activity, it is just the shutter dangling from the upper corner.  Please keep your fingers crossed that Santa will maybe bring me a new camera of better quality as an early Christmas gift.  And also an iced tea brewer and a power rack.

Spinach is super nutritious, so much so I could write an entire blog post on it.  I eat it on an almost daily basis.  Yet somewhere, someone thought it would be a good idea to mix it with a block of cream cheese, a bucket of mayo, more cheese, and then heat it up.  Ok, so it is delicious that way but all those extras kind of negate the spinach. 

I was inspired by a recipe on Skinnytaste (great website, by the way), but still wanted to put my own touch on it.   My version further reduces the amount of mayo used and adds some beans to enhance the nutritional content.  More fiber?  More protein?  Sign me up!

Hot Spinach and Bean Dip
  • 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup small white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light mayo
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 Roma tomato, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure to really squeeze the spinach well to remove any excess liquid.  Combine all ingredients, except tomato, in a bowl and mix well.

personal photo

Place mixture into baking dish and top with tomatoes.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve with multi grain chips or veggie sticks.  Enjoy!
personal photo

Penn State has this weekend off which gives them plenty of time to welcome the Cornhuskers to the Big 10 next week!

Love ya, lions!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Brightness in the Snowtober Power Outages

“Snowtober” really threw a curve ball at much of the North East this past weekend, dumping an uncharacteristic amount of heavy, wet snow on much of the region.  I, along with 649,999 other Massachusetts residents have been without power for 60+ hours and, according to current restoration estimates, we may only be halfway through this ordeal.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a minor meltdown here and there during this trying time.  Like when the power initially went out right at halftime of the Penn State/Illinois game (Snowtober hates college football apparently).  Or how the street behind me didn’t lose power for a second and I’m pretty sure they’re leaving the lights on in every room of their houses just to taunt the rest of the neighborhood.  Or like when you get chicken and whatever veggies are left in the fridge ready to throw on the grill for dinner, only to find the propane tank is empty.  Or even when you have to venture into the basement by yourself armed with only a small flashlight and something reminiscent of Infantata from American Horror Story darts from one corner of the room to the other and nearly makes you crap your pants.  It was there, I swear.

File:AHS-1x01 07.jpg

Ok, so I’ve had several meltdowns since Saturday at 5pm.  Many of us are stressed and frustrated to the max.  My best way to cope is to think of a saying I once heard:  “Everything you need, you already have.”  Meaning, I should be benefiting from this situation in some way instead of focusing on what I am without.  I’ve settled on three important lessons.

1.  Take time to de-clutter. Everyone has a seemingly never-ending "to do" list tucked away in the back of their mind.  It's full of little projects that continually get pushed on the back burner in lieu of more urgent items.  I literally spent all morning Sunday wandering around the house looking for these projects. I straightened up the whole house, sorted a mile-high stack of mail, organized a dozen new recipe cards in my recipe binder, and caught up on some fitness podcasts patiently waiting in my iPod.  It felt good to write mental check marks next to these.  It’s not that these tasks were overly taxing or complex. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They're always the bridesmaid, never the bride.  However, their mere presence in your environment or mind is like a thickening fog.  It clouds your vision and slows you down.  You have to navigate through it first in order to get to the higher priority tasks.  Imagine how effective you’d be if you took just 30 minutes a week to complete a couple back burner projects and paved the way for the things at the top of your "to do" list.

2.  Connect with loved ones. With the amount of technology available at our fingertips, it seems smart phones and DVR's get more attention than our closest relationships.  When was the last time you can honestly say you gave someone 100% of your attention?  My husband and I spent one evening playing card games by candlelight.  We laughed the whole time, activated parts of our brain that hadn’t been used in awhile, and then upped the stakes by turning each game into “Ultimate [insert random card game]” when one of us felt the other’s win was a fluke.  We didn't think about anything else because, well, we couldn't.  We were shut off from the rest of the world.  I also spent two evenings in a row at my in-laws for dinner, something that can have several week gaps in between occurrences.  We shouldn’t be forced into this quality time because technology isn’t available at the moment to entertain us.  It should be the exact opposite.

3.  Appreciation of the little things.  When you don't have those distractions or electricity-fueled sources of entertainment, it allows you to savor the smaller things in life.  Like how the bathroom is transformed into a spa from all the candlelight.  Or indulging in your first pumpkin spice coffee of the season.  Marveling at the unusual combination of bright blue skies, autumn leaves, and snow-covered surfaces.  It makes you stop and take a breath.  It reminds you that you are a small being in a big world, which we could use every so often.

personal photo

Maybe we should implement a faux power outage once a week.  Some time to slow down from the craziness of life to clear our minds.   Straighten up around the house, play a game with your favorite people, or light candles in the bathroom when you take a shower.  When your mind is in a good place, everything else will soon follow. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

5 in 5 Fall Challenge - Conclusion

Congratulations!  You're completing your final week in the "5 in 5" Metabolic Challenge.  You've established some new healthy habits or reinforced ones that have been slacking lately.

It's always good to track some sort of metrics but, truth be told, dramatic results in five weeks is unlikely.  Focus on the subjective factors, like how you stand a little taller, have a surplus of energy, and feel more confidant.  Consider these measurements one of many check points on the journey toward your goals. Take a set of post-measurements similar to the start of the program.  Record your results on the "5 in 5" log and compare.

Here are your post-measurements:

  1. Weigh yourself.  Try to do this at the same time of day as you did with pre-measurements.
  2. Measure your waist.  Line a tape measure up with your navel and measure the circumference.  Do this in front of a mirror to make sure the tape is even.  Pull it snug but not so tight that it indents your skin.
  3. Measure your hips.  Wrap the tape measure around the largest part of your lower body as you stand with feet hip-width apart.
  4. Write the progress you've made toward your goal.  Refer back to what you wrote originally.  How much closer have you become?  What specific actions or habits were the most beneficial?
  5. What are your next steps?  Now what?  We'll never reach an end point when it comes to our health, so think about what you plan to do next.

While we're on the subject, why not start this challenge over again?  No one went through it perfectly, myself included.   There's always room to improve.  Increase the weight in your strength training sessions.  Be more consistent with your protein intake.  Refuel after training with something more substantial.  Keep another log and compare it to your last effort.

Restarting it comes at a perfect time because, like it or not, the holidays are right around the corner.  This is the time when people fall off the wagon or give themselves a free pass that ends up lasting two months.  Why not set realistic goals and do something you're familiar with?  Work on perfecting the five habits then kick it into high gear with something new once the craziness is over. 

Here's a reminder of the 5 weeks:

Week 1: Eat Breakfast Daily
Week 2: Strength Train at Least Twice a Week
Week 3: Refuel After Training
Week 4: Do Two Metabolic Sessions
Week 5: Eat Protein at Every Meal

I hope you enjoyed this motivational program!  I'd love to hear any experiences, feedback, or questions you have about it.  Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chicken, Spinach, & Feta Flat Bread Pizzas with a Balsamic Reduction

Last week I took a bye for tailgate recipes since I was on vacation.  Luckily, I had some yummy munchies while I was away that inspired some new ideas, one of which is these easy flat bread pizzas.  These can be eaten as a meal themselves or cut up in smaller bites as appetizers.  Either way, there's nutritional value from the spinach, protein from chicken, and a reduced amount of fat with feta.

Chicken, Spinach, & Feta Flat bread Pizzas with a Balsamic Reduction
  • 2 flat breads or tortillas (I used Flat Out whole wheat)
  • 1 lb chicken tenders
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup roasted red peppers, diced (use jarred or make your own)
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook on medium until done.  Cut into small, bite-sized pieces and set aside. 

Meanwhile, combine vinegar and honey in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until sauce thickens.

Lay flat breads on a baking sheet or pizza pan.  Brush each with olive oil, then layer with baby spinach.  Arrange chicken evenly over flat bread.  Top with roasted red peppers and feta.  Bake in oven 6 to 8 minutes, or until flat bread is crispy.  You may want to follow package baking instructions if you use a different type of crust.

When pizza is done, remove from oven and drizzle with vinegar and honey mixture.  Cut into strips or bite-sized pieces and serve!

*Not gonna lie, next time I will probably use a Boboli whole wheat pre-made crust instead.  The Flat Outs were a little dry with this combination, though I'm sure it'd be fine with a more substantial sauce.

We are...BCS ranked!

Friday, October 21, 2011

"5 in 5" Week 5: Eat Protein At Every Meal

Hope you're having fun with the metabolic sessions in Week 4!  Keep striving for two sessions per week along with eating breakfast daily, two strength training sessions, and refueling after each training.  
Your best body is not something that can be achieved by hitting the gym a few times a week.   It is a 24/7 effort, which is why this last week encompasses a little more time.   For Week 5, you will eat a source of protein at every meal.
Protein is the building block of muscle.  Remember that we are actually breaking muscle down during the training sessions and adequate amounts of fuel need to be present for the rebuilding process to occur.  For the amount of weekly training sessions you are doing, you need to consume it steadily to support your efforts.  
Shoot for a decent source with at least 80 percent of your meals.   If you eat six smaller meals a day, roughly one meal per day could be noncompliant.   If you're a three square meals a day type of person, four per week could go without protein.     
I know that seems like a tall order.   And it is because protein is lacking in most people's diets. Just look around next time you're out in public.   You know the saying "you are what you eat"?  Refined carbohydrates and processed foods are abundant in the average American's diet and it's reflected in our disease state and fluffy appearances.   Imagine what we'd look like if ate more lean protein instead.  Your ideal body should come to mind.  
Here are some examples of protein sources to incorporate into your meals:
  • Poultry - look for white, skinless varieties
  • Lean meats - cuts ending in "loin" are generally lower in fat
  • Fish and seafood - shrimp, salmon, shellfish, etc.
  • Eggs - even the yolks, which contain certain types of protein that isn't found elsewhere
  • Beans - lentils, black, navy, kidney, etc.   A great option of vegetarians.
  • Dairy - try for low or nonfat versions. It offers less protein than meats, but still a good option.
  • Nuts - natural nut butters, unsalted nuts, etc.   Though the majority of their nutritional content is from healthy fats, they still contain some protein.
  • Protein powders - casein, whey, soy, etc.   This supplement is a convenient way to add more protein. Vegetarians can choose soy varieties.   Those sensitive to dairy should avoid casein and whey. 
Below is an example of how to include a protein source at every meal:
6:00am    Two pieces of whole wheat toast with 2 tbsp natural peanut butter
10:00am    Apple and one piece of low-fat string cheese
12:00pm    Mixed greens salad with grilled chicken breast topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar 
3:00pm    Smoothie made with ice, skim milk, protein powder, and fruit of choice 
6:00pm    Broiled fish, steamed broccoli, and a side salad 
8:00pm    Greek yogurt topped with chopped walnuts
There you have it.  Put this final week together with what you've been practicing so far.  Next week we'll wrap up with post-measurements and talk about what's next.  Have a great week!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Do You Train or Workout?

If I asked "Did you train or did you workout today?" you might say "Yeah, I hit the gym" or "Got my 5 mile run in first thing this morning".  Except, I'm asking two distinct questions.  Did you train today or did you workout? 

Working out is bouncing up and down on the elliptical while watching tv or talking on your cell phone.  It's "doing the machines" or "arm's day".  It's getting it in whenever your schedule opens up once a week or a couple times a month.  Maybe you feel better afterwards.  Maybe you don't want to admit that gym membership was a waste of money.  You do it because you know you should.  While something is better than nothing, there are ways to be more efficient.

Training implies a purpose.  Each effort is a mindful, progressive step towards a goal.  That goal is clear and specific like completing your first 5k, reaching and maintaining your ideal body fat percentage, or setting a personal record on a certain lift.  Those who train know what they want to accomplish and by when.  They have a fire inside them that never goes out.  Training sessions are always top priority, free of distractions, and nothing less than maximal effort. 

So, do you train or do you workout?  Training is a succession of sessions that slowly build upon one another to get closer and closer to the desired end result.  Working out is a bunch of isolated incidents lacking cohesiveness.  It's like throwing a handful of darts all at once and hoping one hits the bulls eye.    

I used work out all the time.  Yet, all the experts in my field I admire and respect are always training for something like a figure competition, a power lifting meet, or a triathlon.  Since working in the fitness industry, I've never had the desire to train for an event and even if I did, I didn't know what.  At times I doubted myself as if it made me less "fitness professional-y" than those I looked up to. 

It wasn't until recently that I realize I DO train and for something far more important than any competition out there.  I train to keep my spine healthy.  I train so I can bend, twist, and move pain-free.  I train so some day I won't be laying face down on a surgical with my back cut open, spine exposed, as surgeons fuse metal rods to my spine.  And I train so some day when my husband and I want to start a family, pregnancy won't collapse my spine any further.  Now that I know what I train for, my sessions are fueled by a whole new level of dedication and tenacity.

What are you training for? 

Friday, October 14, 2011

"5 in 5" Week 4: Do Two Metabolic Sessions a Week

In Week 3 you built the habit of refueling with a balance of carbohydrates and protein after each strength training session.  This week, you'll add a different type of training to your routine which also requires a post-training snack.

Your goal for Week 4 is to do two metabolic sessions each week.  There is more detailed information, including sample workouts, on my Training Page.  Alternating sets of strength exercises, Tabatas, short or negative rest periods, circuits, etc. are all characteristic of metabolic acceleration training.  

Sessions are typically quick - from as little as ten minutes to upwards of 40 minutes.  Don't mistake quick for easy, though.  You should be working at a vigorous intensity level.  Vigorous means there's quite a noticable increase in your breathing and heart rate.  If someone stopped by to chat in the middle of your session, you'd barely be able to get a word or two out for a response.  And if you do, it may not even sound like english...that's how hard you should be pushing yourself.   

Now that we have a mix of strength and metabolic training in our weekly routine, here's a couple ideas of what a week might look like:

  • Sun - rest
  • Mon - strength
  • Tues - metabolic
  • Wed - rest
  • Thurs - strength
  • Fri - metabolic
  • Sat - rest

  • Sun - rest
  • Mon - strength
  • Tues - metabolic
  • Wed - strength
  • Thurs - rest
  • Fri - strength
  • Sat - metabolic
Remember to avoid strength training the same muscle groups on consecutive days.  I recommend taking a rest day after two or three consective days of vigorous training.  But, don't take"rest" so literally.  You can go for a hike, play a round of golf, stretch out in a yoga class, or whatever else you enjoy.  Our bodies are built to move, so let them!

We're almost there!  Your weekly routine should now include eating a healthy breakfast daily, strength training at least twice a week, metabolic training two times a week, and refueling after each training session. 

For our final week, we'll discuss incorporating more protein into our diets to further support our efforts.

Be sure to "like" my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.  Tell me if you try any metabolic workouts on my Training Page!

Have a great week!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Football Party Taco Bar

It's no secret my husband and I LOVE Mexican food.  It typically makes a weekly appearance in our dinners, we frequent the best Mexican restaurant in our area, and we visit the country on a yearly basis to get our fix.  So, of course, it's a staple in our tailgate menus as well.

A taco bar is a great idea for your next football party, especially if you're the host.  Simmer the meat in the slow cooker all day, chop up the toppings ahead of time, and then let your guests assemble it themselves so you won't miss a single play!  Plus, the freshness of the ingredients provide a ton of flavor AND health benefits.  

I decided to switch things up this week and go with pork tacos.  Since it's a leaner cut, I used a pork tenderloin.  It was approximately one pound which could serve about 4 people (maybe even less if you love Mexican as much as we do).  You can buy taco seasoning at the store to save time, however I made my own to cut down on the sodium content.

Slow Cooker Pork Tacos
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin
  • 1 cup chicken stock, low sodium
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Combine all spices and whisk with olive oil.  Coat pork tenderloin in the oil/spice mixture.  Brown the meat on all sides, then place in slow cooker.  Add chicken stock to the skillet to deglaze the pan.  Be sure to scrape up any brown bits for added flavor.  Then pour chicken stock into slow cooker with pork (I also added whatever oil/spice mixture was left to the slow cooker).  Cook on low for 6 hours or until meat easily pulls apart.  You can shred the meat and easily serve it right from the slow cooker. 

I cut the tenderloin into two pieces so it would fit in my slow cooker more easily.

The toppings are the fun part!  Get creative with your choices and prepare them ahead of time so they are ready to go when your guests are hungry.  I served with (clockwise starting at the top left) shredded lettuce, lime wedges, chopped avocado, fat free sour cream,  jalapenos, chopped green onion, diced red onion, diced tomatoes, low-fat shredded cheese, and chopped cilantro.

Heat up some whole wheat tortillas when you're ready to serve.


My husband said these were some of my best and insists that avocado is now non-negotiable for every future taco night.  Can't argue with that.

Penn State is now 5-1, still doesn't have a starting QB (Team McGloin!), and there's rumors swirling of Urban Meyer as the successor to JoePa.  Should be an interesting season!

We are...PENN STATE!

Friday, October 7, 2011

"5 in 5" Week 3: Refuel After Training

Week 2  of the "5 in 5" Fall Challenge was all about completing at least two strength training sessions per week.  Have I mentioned that strength training actually breaks muscle down?  No?  Well, it does.  The benefits come when we allow for an adequate recovery.  This consists of two things: refueling with proper nutrition and getting plenty of rest (both in the amount of sleep we get and in the rest time between training sessions).
Your goal for Week 3 is to refuel after each training session.  This will help reduce muscle breakdown and actually help build lean mass, turning you into a calorie burning machine.  Want to recover faster?  Hate feeling sore for days afterward?  Post-training nutrition is your ticket.
Your body needs to refuel most within the first hour after training.  If that's not possible, remember something is always better than nothing.  Choose something with a combination of carbohydrates and protein, preferably in a 2:1 ratio.  Examples of carbohydrates are fruits, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, or complex carbohydrates like whole grains.  You could easily make a post-workout smoothie with milk, whey protein powder, fruit, and ice.  Or a major meal, like lunch or dinner, afterwards would also count.  Here are some examples of protein sources:
  • Poultry
  • Lean meat
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
I prefer a whey protein shake because it gets into my system faster.  At home, I'll blend together a cup of almond or skim milk, a scoop of chocolate whey powder, and a heaping handful of frozen raspberries.  When on the go, I'll mix a scoop of whey with water and snack on a piece of fruit and/or some whole grain crackers. 
Make sure your efforts with strength training aren't going to waste and fuel up after each session for Week 3.  Continue eating a healthy breakfast daily and getting at least two strength training session for the week as well.  Hold yourself accountable and track your activity in the "5 in 5" log.

Be sure to "like" my
Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.  I want to hear about any delicious post-training drinks you come up with!
Next week we'll talk about metabolic acceleration training - something sure to kick your results into high gear. Have a great week!

Amanda's Fall Flavored Chili

Nothing says "football" more than chili and luckily, it's also a quick and healthy meal.  My version has the standard meat and beans for plenty of protein and fiber.  To give it more of a fall feel, I increased the vegetable content by adding butternut squash.  Always abundant this time of year, butternut squash is a great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6.  It is also known to contain carotenoids, which protect against heart disease, and several anti-oxidants, which can fight off some cancers and inflammation. 

Oh yeah, there's a bottle of Octoberfest beer in my recipe.  What's more fall than that?

Amanda's Fall-Flavored Chili
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1.5 cups butternut squash, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juice (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 chipolte pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped (omit if you don't want the heat)
  • 1 cup beef broth (fat free, low sodium)
  • 1 bottle Octoberfest beer
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1.5 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a pot.  Add onion and garlic and saute until soft.  Add ground turkey and cook until browned.  Next add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, and salt and pepper.  Stir well.  Add beans and chipolte pepper.  Then, pour beer and beef stock.  Add extra stock if solid ingredients aren't covered.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a half hour allowing chili to thicken.

Top with low-fat shredded cheese, fat-free sour cream, and a squeeze of lime juice.  Enjoy!

Go Penn State!!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sandbag Circuits

My sandbag has been my new best friend lately.  It takes up a small amount of space, is super versatile, and can kick your butt at any given second.  Plus, something about slugging around a ton of sand just makes you feel badass.  Ok, maybe not a ton of sand.  Thirty pounds is more like it, but you get the idea.

This metabolic session has three circuits using a 40:20 second work to rest ratio.  You will complete 12 total rounds of each circuit.  Cycle through exercises 1-3 trying to complete as many quality repetitions as you can in 40 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest before moving on to the next exercise.  

For example, in Circuit A start by completing as many burpees as you can in 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds, then do as many bent rows as you can for 40 seconds.  Rest for 20 seconds, do 40 seconds of squats, and rest for another 20 seconds.  Repeat that sequence three more times, which will total 12 minutes.  Rest for 2 minutes between each circuit.  The total session time should be 40 minutes, including rest periods.

A.   40:20 - 12 rounds - 12 minutes
  1. Burpees
  2. Bent Row with sandbag
  3. Squat with sandbag
Rest for 2 minutes

B.   40:20 - 12 rounds - 12 minutes
  1. Jump Rope
  2. "T" Push-Up
  3. Alternating Rotational Lunge with sandbag
Rest for 2 minutes

C.   40:20 - 12 rounds - 12 minutes
  1. Split Jumps
  2. Clean with sandbag
  3. Single-Leg Deadlift with sandbag
Completing all three circuits is a challenge.  If you're a beginner, start with one circuit per session.  Add the second and eventually the third when you feel more comfortable.  Also consider using bodyweight or a lighter sandbag to start.  Always be sure to warm up properly before beginning. 

Good luck!

Friday, September 30, 2011

"5 in 5" Week 2: Strength Train at Least Twice a Week

You've got a good rhythm going with eating a healthy breakfast each morning for Week 1.  Your goal for Week 2 is to continue to those daily breakfasts and incorporate at least two days of strength training into your routine.  If you're a beginner, twice a week may be plenty.  Some of the all-stars may be doing a more advanced program with several days per week so there's some extra space on the "5 in 5" log if needed.

When you want to transform your body strength training should be your top priority (only to be bested by proper nutrition).  Yet somehow the average Joe's and Jane's are still brainwashed into doing countless hours of "aerobics" even though it doesn't yield them the results they want.  And even though any respectable fitness professional would recommend other methods.

For some sample strength training routines and an explanation as to why all the cool kids are doing it, check out my "Training" page on the blog.  I would also recommend the following books for a good place to start:


You should always consult your physician before starting any exercise program or increasing your current activity level. Additionally, contact a fitness professional to ensure proper form for safety and effectiveness.  No sense doing it if you're not doing it right.  Right?  Everyone has a different fitness level so it is important to participate in a program that’s appropriate for you. You should not train the same muscles on consecutive days so be sure to give yourself at least one rest day in between training sessions.
"Like" my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter so we can keep up with each other's progress in the challenge!

We'll talk about what to eat post-training session for Week 3.  Until then, focus on eating breakfast and working at least two strength training sessions into your schedule.  Have a great week!