The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 12: You should eat 5 meals per day

The theory that there’s a magic number of meals per day for weight loss, muscle gain, etc. is something doctors, nutritionists and celebrities have varying opinions about. While you’d think we’d take an educated and certified professional’s advice over a celebrity, that sadly isn’t always the case. The media and we as a culture often admire and adore folks in the limelight, and give them perhaps far more credibility than we should. And so many myths becomes “facts” in some warped way.

The advice that 5 small meals per day will lead to weight loss is somewhat both a myth and sometimes a fact. When we go long periods of time without eating, it can be common to feel a dip in energy, mood and focus. Maintaining somewhat consistent blood sugar can prevent dips and spikes in energy. So it makes sense that continuously fueling your body at a slow burn would keep your energy, metabolism, and blood sugar all happy and in check. Here’s the danger with that: it can be easy to overeat and consume far more calories if you are actually eating 5 “meals.” And if you are eating around the clock, your body will be using the fuel in your stomach for energy, not the body fat you are hoping to lose. Remember that insulin plays in a big role in how we use what we put in our mouths – and when.

The best way to eat for weight loss, maintaining weight, and feeling fueled tends to trend with the concept of 3 meals per day, and some snacks throughout the day. Now, snacks of donuts or candy probably aren’t what doctors are recommending. Instead, something nutritionally dense, and in the 100-300 calorie range. Think of a piece of fruit, a container of greek yogurt, sliced veggies with hummus – that kind of thing. Another thing to keep in mind is portion size for the meals. In general, portions are way too big in America. So that means we are consuming more calories at a sitting than necessary but assuming that’s “normal.”

It’s also important to remember that we are all different. While our bodies are all quite similar, we have different variables. Working different hours, sleep, age, activity level. Some of us are naturally grazers. Others need the ritual of sitting down to a “real meal” in order to feel satisfied. While some people like to drink their calories (smoothie, shake, etc.) others feel the need to chew their food. It is common that when hangry, we will reach for the most available and desirable item. This scenario rarely leads to good choices. So preventing that hangry state from occurring can help.

So while there may be no magic number of meals for us across the boards, a balance in macros throughout the day and at each meal can help. And if you are consuming the amount of calories needed, weight gain won’t be an issue. If you are looking to lose weight, stay away from temptations, and keep your macros in check.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 4: Eating fat will make you fat

Depending on your age and generation, you have quite possibly heard quite a few conflicting theories on food, nutrition and fat. Does eating fat make you fat? No. In fact, you need fat in your diet. Obviously you shouldn’t eat only fat, but that’s true for every macronutrient. Fo a long time, fat has had a bad name. Think about how many packages at the grocery store proudly advertise “fat free.”

It’s not fat that makes us fat. It’s calories. And to be fair, fat has more calories per gram than protein, carbohydrates, alcohol, and so on. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have 4. So you while you can consume more carbs/protein at a lower total calorie count, it’s not the fat that is a factor in weight gain – it’s simply the calories. In fact, some studies suggest that people on a reduced-fat diet are prone to consuming more sugars and starches, which can cause weight gain, diabetes, and other health concerns. And while a high-fat diet can also be an issue, moderation is usually best. But if you are a healthy person, you should make it a point to get in some fat – eggs, salmon, peanut butter, olive oil, avocados, most nuts, dairy, meat – all can be good sources.

Cutting all fat can be incredibly harmful, and it’s not uncommon for someone looking to lose weight to cut as much fat from their diet as possible. Be careful. Your brain needs fat to function properly. And our bodies rely on it for dozens of things – like energy, absorption of certain vitamins, and feeling full longer – as fat can take a while to digest. Now this isn’t me suggesting you only eat foods that are deep fried. Not all fats are created equal. If you are looking to lose weight or have more energy, avoid fried foods and look for good sources of fat. Stay away from white/simple starches and stick to whole grains. Load up on fresh or steamed veggies and fruits, and lean meats. Moderation really is the best way to keep your body, brain and mood satisfied, fueled, and energized.

Debunking Diet Delusions

Today’s blog is about nutrition habits. Many folks looking to hire a trainer or sign up for a marathon are hopeful that with committing to something physical, they will magically be able to eat everything they want and lose weight. It’s a nice thought, but usually not true. In fact, it’s not uncommon for folks to gain weight during their first season of training – because it is really easy to say “hey, I ran today!” and eat everything. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that burning 500 calories on a run doesn’t erase the calories in a burger and fries.

Did you know that many elite athletes are very careful about their caloric intake and nutrition habits? It may sound silly and unnecessary, but it’s quite often true. Folks who may be running 120+ miles per week are careful to not gain any weight. Yes, someone running 120 miles per week can afford to eat a hell of a lot more calories than the folks running 20 mile weeks, but my point is that to be their best, they need to be strong and as light as safely possible. The same is true with you and your goals, if they are based on pace and a time. If your goal is to lose weight, nutrition when training becomes incredibly important.

When I meet with new clients, I am sometimes told they want my physique. They joke to “sign them up” for whatever I am personally doing. I should also say that many friends and family assume I eat anything and everything all the time. I don’t. When I am visiting friends and family, I am often choosing to indulge. We are at a party, a celebration, out at a restaurant, a family get-together, or they simply see me on a day I am indulging because I simply want to. These same family and friends don’t believe me when I say that what they see me consume isn’t the norm. Do I eat bagels, cake or pizza everyday? Nope. Not even close. Do I talk about food, blog about it, dream about it and love it? Yes, guilty as charged. So I wanted this blog to showcase the reality of what it takes for me to be fit, strong, and extremely goal-driven – and perhaps you can apply some of what I do to your own life and goals.

Here are a few facts about me you may not know:

  • I very rarely weigh myself. In fact, in the last year I have only weighed myself to keep track of dehydration levels when training and racing Ultra Marathons (12-24 hour races).
  • I keep track of everything I eat, every day. I use an app. on my phone. I want to know what I am consuming and I find I need to keep myself accountable – be it calories, grams of protein, servings of fruits that day – I track EVERYTHING.
  • I also track my activity. Hours of sleep, time standing, running, weight training. I keep all the data.

To show you what my nutrition usually looks like, I am listing below 2 random days from the past few weeks. One day is an “average” day for me, the other is a “rest day,” – and I tend to eat more calories and junk on rest days. I’ll also make note of my training on the “average” day.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015: an example of an “average” day for Coach Corky.

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, 1 cup fresh blueberries, 4 tsp. brown sugar
  • Lunch: 1 large sweet potato, 5 tbs. parmesan cheese, 2 links of turkey sausage
  • Dinner: 1 cup Goya black beans, 2 whole wheat tortillas, 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese
  • Snacks: 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1/2 fresh pineapple
  • Total calories consumed: 2084
  • Training: weight trained for 1 hour, ran at a moderate pace for 1 hour
  • Total calories burned: 2837

Saturday, May 9, 2015: an example of an indulgence day

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 large avocado, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • Lunch: 1 Larabar protein bar, 1 pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food FroYo
  • Dinner: Whole wheat pasta
  • Snacks: 1 brownie, 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1 banana, 3 bottles of Sierra Nevada beer
  • Total calories consumed: 3902
  • Training: ran for easy coaching miles for 50 minutes
  • Total calories burned: 2513

As you can see, some days I burn more than I eat and other days it’s the opposite. I usually try to focus on consuming fuel that makes me feel good – I want to be strong and healthy for my training. But I am also human, and am a really great stress eater.

A month or two ago, I decided I want to drop a little bit of body fat. Why? Well because if I want to be my fastest and my best out there for goal races, I need to be light. Trying to drop what little excess weight I have is tough. It’s like that last little bit your body is hanging on to and doesn’t want to give up. So I made sure to focus on weight training, running, and eating less than I burned. Did I lose the fat? Probably a little bit. But I am not going to lose sleep over it. I feel stronger, and am lifting more than ever before in my life, and am getting back to some speedy running and so things are going in the right direction.

Your journey and your goals are your own. Just be aware that when you see a coach, athlete or person on the street you don’t know – you have no idea what goes into their training and what genetics, sacrifices and dedication may have been necessary for what you see to be possible. Am I going to torture myself to be the lightest I can be? Nope. It’s not worth it to me. And as long as I feel healthy and capable of achieving what I want, the rest is gravy. Mmmm…gravy. No, I don’t eat gravy frequently. But it is damn delicious.

Endurance Nutrition

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

During marathon season, many questions come up regarding nutrition. Today I’d like to go over some nutrition tips for marathon season, including basic nutrition, mid-run fueling, and pre-run/post-run nutrition.

It’s no secret that running a marathon is a pretty easy way to lose weight. You simply are burning thousands more calories than the person sitting on the couch. I am frequently asked about how to diet while marathon training. For most runners, this is not a smart idea. Your body and brain are put through a lot of stress during marathon training months, and depriving yourself serious calories can leave you feeling tired. You can also accidentally cut nutrition you need, leaving your body weak and unable to improve for your task at hand – 26.2 miles. Therefore, I suggest eating a sensible and well-balanced diet while training, and any extra body fat will probably disappear due to training, as long as you aren’t suddenly overeating. Instead of going on a diet, think of your body as your machine and yourself as an athlete – because you are. It doesn’t matter how fast you are going to run on race day, you are preparing your body for a marathon. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Foods that give you the fuel and nutrients you need to feel good, energized, and fueled for training. Fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs and lots of water should make up most of your diet. Focus on eating well and don’t make anything off-limits.

For your long runs and race day, nutrition can be what makes or breaks your morning. Mid-run fueling can be tricky, as everyone has different sweat-rates, and everyone’s stomach and nutrition needs are different. Personally, if I am running a 3:00-3:30 marathon, I’ll consume 1 GU every 30-40 minutes (usually 4 GU per marathon), and I grab a cup of water every 20 minutes and take a few sips. For me, this is usually enough to get me through a marathon without feeling too zapped, but also not water-logged or sick. If conditions aren’t ideal, I may take more nutrition. I’ve sometimes used GU with caffeine and other times without. Whatever I end up training with most is what I go with on race day. That’s one example. The longer your out there for your race, the more fuel you’ll need. Other runners prefer Gatorade or Blocks over Gu-like products. On your training run, try to practice what you’ll do on race day. Nutrition is recommended for runs lasting about 90 minutes or more. Any runs of less time shouldn’t require mid-race fueling as long as you are hydrated pre-run and refuel after your workout is complete.

  • A word about mid-run nutrition – yes, there are calories in nutrition – about 100 calories per serving. These calories are very much-needed on your long runs, so DO NOT skip them because you are watching your figure. However, if you are using GU for every run you do, even easy 3-5 milers, you may end up gaining weight. Those supplements simply aren’t necessary for short runs and are therefore empty calories.

What you eat before your long run can lend itself to a successful run – or can make you suffer. Just as you should think about your general nutrition fueling your body as an athlete, you need to be aware of what you are consuming pre-long run. You don’t need to go crazy with the carbs (your body can only store so much glycogen, and the rest will simply be wasted), but you DO want to make sure you eat simple carbs. The night before a long run, I may eat pasta, pizza, rice, or potatoes. The morning of my run, I eat a bagel or toast with a little peanut butter, a banana with oatmeal, or pancakes. Just give yourself a few hours between your meal and your run. How much time you’ll need is going to vary per person. It is also very important to be consuming water the day before and the day of your long run. Just as it takes a little time to digest and process carbs into glycogen, it takes our bodies some time to hydrate. Chugging a liter right before your run will not help you.

Post-run, it’s important to get nutrition into your system as quickly as possible. Your body, depleted of nutrition, will go into recovery-mode soon after you finish your run. Therefore, consuming something with carbs and protein and some sugar is great. You will also need to drink some water and perhaps a bottle of Gatorade. Personally, I love a tall glass of chocolate milk, a bottle of Gatorade, and a big glass of water as soon as I’m finished my long run. After that, I’ll eat a meal. Unlike some runners, my stomach is rarely a mess post-run and I always have an appetite. I’ll eat anything from a burger with fries and a beer to a big salad topped with some form of protein. Other times I’ll opt for a big plate of pancakes or a bagel with cream cheese and lox. I go with what I’m craving. If your stomach is sensitive and you don’t have an appetite, at least get water and something like chocolate milk into your system. That’s far better than nothing. Remember, in order for your legs to recover as quickly as possible, you need nutrients to do so.

Again, this is just a starting point. I could dive into the different components of endurance nutrition in a far more detailed and nerdy way, but at least you hopefully have some sort of understanding of why certain choices should and shouldn’t be made. Remember that what works for one runner may not work for the next, and so you should always use your long runs as your “dress rehearsals” for race day. Good luck, and happy running!

 

Seasonal Noshes – Autumn Edition

PumpkinsIf you live in the northeast, you have said goodbye to Summer and have taken out your comfy sweaters. As blueberry season has come and gone, there are some great seasonal foods that are yummy, filling, good for you, and comfort-food like.

Here are some of my favorites:

Sweet potatoes – incredibly nutrient-dense, easy to bake whole or slice and bake in olive oil and topped with some parmesan cheese.

Butternut Squash – great for soup, roasting, and more. Easy to store, nutrient dense, and savory.

Apples – I love to toss some peanut butter on fresh apples after a workout, or before a workout. Sweet, crisp, and the peanut butter adds some protein and good fat.

Pears – refreshing, sweet, and a great snack. Just be careful when packing a pear to go, as they bruise easily.

Pumpkins – so fun to bake with! I love making pumpkin pancakes, but you can find recipes for pumpkin muffins, ravioli, and more!

Apple cider – drink it chilled, warm it on top of the stove, toss in a cinnamon stick, or spike it for an “adult twist” – it’s delicious a million ways!

Lentil soup – easy to make, inexpensive ingredients, protein and fiber dense – this soup is perfect for dinner. Serve up with a hearty slice of bread and a glass of red wine – perfection!

These are only a few suggestions. There are tons of great Autumn options out there, many of which won’t tax your wallet or the scale. As cold/flu season raises it’s ugly head, stay healthy by consuming foods high in nutrients.

Bonus: eating well most of the time makes those indulgent holidays that much sweeter, and that much more fun!

Do Dairy

These days, many foods are getting a bad wrap. Sadly, some of these foods are being slammed based on on “scientific study,” so on and so forth. It’s tempting to jump on a bandwagon, but also silly. Thanks to the internet, lots of information is available out there – both good and bad.

Today I would like to defend one food category that is often judged: dairy. Some studies will tell you that dairy is bad for you. Or will make you fat. Or cause cancer. Yada, yada, yada.

Dairy is also high in vitamin D, calcium, protein and sometimes fat. Fat isn’t all bad. Remember, fat is a necessary part of your dietary needs. If you are running and/or working out, dairy is an important (and delicious!) part of your daily diet.

So, before you jump on a nutrition bandwagon, do your research, One “study” is not enough. You wouldn’t base many important decisions on one study, would you? I’d say your diet, what you put into your body, is a pretty big decision. Do your homework.

In-Season Noshing

1400673_502331099862528_1688462209_oI don’t know about you, but after a sweaty summer run I crave fresh fruits and veggies. I often visualize a big bowl of blueberries or pineapple, or a giant slice of watermelon.

The lovely thing about summer running is that these cravings are happily met when I get home. This time of year, I stock my kitchen with all kinds of in season treats. Strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, big salads – the list goes on.

I often wash and prepare a big bowl of seasonal goodness before I run, so that when I get home I can dive right in. The bonus: fruits and veggies offer tons of nutrients that runners need, and are also a great way to rehydrate. Yes, I still have a tall glass of chocolate milk and lots of water, but consuming fruits and veggies aids rehydrating too.

A go-to snack this time of year: fresh mozzarella sliced with basil and red tomato slices. Add a little salt and pepper, and you have a fresh, nutrient-dense party on a plate!

Go out to the farmers market or store near you, and stock up on nature’s delights. I promise you that you won’t be sorry. Extra bonus? If you are trying to cut down those sweet temptations, some fruit is a great way to satisfy those cravings.

Post-Run Refueling

DSC_0112It has become common knowledge in the fitness world that refueling properly after a workout is very important. Getting nutrients in the body quickly post-workout helps the muscles recover fast, which means you will heal and be ready for your next workout!

While I often take a protein shake after a hard run (a track workout or a long run), on other days I prefer either a glass of chocolate milk or a serving of Greek yogurt.

Greek yogurt packs an impressive amount of protein in few calories. Most range from 12-16 grams of protein for 120-160 calories! Also, yogurt is great for your stomach, and most Greek yogurt is low in sugar. NOTE: “regular” yogurt is NOT the same thing. The protein is way less, the sugar way more.

Chocolate milk is the perfect combination of protein, carbs, sugar, vitamin D and calcium for replenishing. Mix it yourself, and you’ll save money. A serving of 16 oz. 1% milk and a serving of chocolate syrup run you about 265 calories. Winter tip: heat it over the stove at a low temperature and it will taste like hot chocolate!