So, why did I write Meal Prep 101? Because most of us are busy. There is no way around it. Between our jobs, our families, and packed social schedules, meal prep often takes a back seat. We are more likely to prioritize our workouts over watching TV, but we are less likely to prioritize our meals. Afterall, living in a culture of drive-throughs and meal delivery services, we no longer need to cook!
However, what most people don’t realize is that the majority of your success in fitness lays in your diet. You can train until you are a sweaty and exhausted, but if you are not fueling your body the right way, you will never achieve the results you are after.This guide is very close to the Meal Prep 101 Seminar I hold in Atlanta for the local gyms and training facilities.
Making a Plan
Meal Prep Plan
The easiest way to make meal prep a breeze, is to have a solid plan before you dive into the details.
- Choose 2-3 proteins to avoid food boredom and make it easier to batch cook meals.
- Choose colorful veggies and fruits.
- Shop for produce that’s in season. It costs less.
- Choose recipes that call for the same ingredients. For example: grilled chicken for dinner can also make a great chicken salad for lunch. Hard boiled eggs can be used both in a salad and as a snack.
- Always read through the recipes and make agrocery list. Go through your spice cabinet and your condiments and make sure that you have everything you need to make your meals.
- Reading the recipes before hand will also help you prioritize the cooking order. For example: if the proteins need to be marinated for 30 minutes to 24 hours in advance, you’d want to do that first. If the dish takes 3 hours to make and requires a crockpot, you’d want to start that before you start the rest of your meal prep.
- Whether you are cooking just for yourself or a bunch of people, make sure that the products you are purchasing or using are not going to trigger any allergies. Always read the ingredient lists of the products you buy.
Reading and Modifying Recipes to Fit Your Macros
For those of you who missed the Nutrition 101 post from last week, macronutrients (macros) are protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Depending on your level of activity and the type of body type, you will have a different daily allotment of macronutrients. This means that you should be able to modify and calculate the macronutrient density of your meals to match your daily intake. Don’t worry, it is not as scary or as difficult as it sounds.
Meal Prep 101: Reading a Recipe
Most recipes will have the number of servings and nutrition information indicated either before or after the recipe. Look at the serving size and the amount of calories, protein, and carbohydrates to determine if they fit your needs.
To make this super simple, you should have at least some kind of carbohydrate before and after working out. Therefore, recipes with the most amount of carbohydrates per serving are a good fit for the meals surrounding your workouts.
Go through the ingredient list of the recipe and through your fridge, spice cabinet, and pantry. Do you have everything you need? Is any of it expired? Yes, mustard expires. So does ketchup, mayo, and butter. Make a grocery list.
As I mentioned above, reading the recipe and understanding the cooking times will be key to making meal prep a breeze.
How to Fit Your Macros
Your coach, trainer, or sports nutrition coach will be able to help you calculate your macronutrient values. If you don’t have a coach, take this survey to determine your body type and approximate macronutrient requirements and I will be glad to get in touch with you and give you your macros.
If you are confused about the concept of macros, read my Nutrition Basics article.
Meal Prep 101: Meal Prep Macro Hacks
When planning your meals, take into consideration what you will be using and the methods of cooking. This is especially important when it comes to fat. We often just pour oil into the pan and hope for the best. This is where you actually have to measure. Since fat has the most calories per gram, it is very easy to make an otherwise light meal very calorie dense. I highly recommend you invest in the following equipment:
- High quality, non-stick pans
- Rice cooker
- Slow cooker or pressure cooker or both.
- Steamer Basket
- Gas Grill or a George Foreman Grill
When you have a really nice non-stick pan, you can get away with using less fat during cooking. Also, you can save on a lot of calories from fat by grilling or steaming your food rather than sauteeing.
So, when you are figuring out how to organize your meal plan, consider the following: pick recipes that are whole food based. Some processed or canned food is ok, but try to limit it to one or two ingredients. Consider using sodium free seasonings like Mrs. Dash or any other no salt added seasoning brand. If a recipe calls for mayonnaise, you can usually sub it out for a mixture of mayo and nonfat greek yogurt.
If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, concentrate on complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and beans and lentils and cut back on simple carbohydrates such as white bread, sugar, potatoes, etc. Carbohydrates with higher fiber content keep you fuller longer.
If protein is something you don’t get enough of, consider adding protein shakes and protein smoothies into your meal plan. However, some smoothie recipes can be packed with fats, carbohydrates and calories, so be smart about it.
Tracking Your Macros like a Pro
You could use a fancy spreadsheet to track your macros, and if you are into that, email me and I’ll help you build one. However, if you are a person who doesn’t have the time to learn a whole new way of thinking about food and nutrients, my suggestion is to download a macro tracking app on your phone. My Fitness Pal is a great macro tracking app and so is Lose It. You can also keep a hand written diary if you are not into technology, although who isn’t these days?! Come on, people, I taught my very Russian grandmother how to use an iPhone, you can learn too.
Batching Your Meals
Previously I mentioned choosing recipes with common ingredients. Diversity in your diet will help you stick to your meal plans better. So, try to use a vegetable or a protein in more than one preparation. For example: grilled chicken breasts can be used in a southwestern lunch bowl recipe, in a chicken salad, and eaten as is for dinner. That’s three different meals with three distinct flavor profiles. The same goes for quinoa which can be used for breakfast in a sweet or savory preparation, as part of a salad at lunch and as a side dish for dinner.
Batch cooking is something that I address a lot with my nutrition clients and it seems to be a huge time saver for most.
Creating Sustainable Meal Plans
A sustainable meal plan is a meal plan that you have no problem cooking and sticking to throughout the week. No, it doesn’t mean having to cook everything from scratch, you can use some processed ingredients, but try to limit yourself to only a few. For example, using tomato paste in a recipe is fine, but using 12 canned things in one meal is probably isn’t gonna do your sodium intake any favors.
Think about your meal plan as part of a stress free and guilt free week. So, don’t overcomplicate things. If you are having trouble figuring out what a sustainable meal plan may look like? Grab the freebie. It will all click.
Helpful Tools to Make Your Life Easier
Misto or any other oil spray system – same as a good pan, a good oil spray system will help you keep your fat calories down.
Steamer Basket – i don’t need to tell you that steamed vegetables are better for you than any other kind of veggie preparation.
Slow Cooker – no time to cook? It’s all good. Slow cooker does the work for you while you are doing other things. I am a big fan of “dump dinners”. I usually put together 5 or 6 “dump dinners” and freeze them with instructions on the bag. When I know I have no time to cook, I just drop everything into the slow cooker, set it on low and go to work. No defrosting needed. By the time I get out of my office (it’s on the other side of the house), dinner is ready!
Pressure Cooker – I don’t know what I would do without it. I am a person who likes to see results and when I am hungry, I want food now. There is no time to waste, none whatsoever. I use my pressure cooker almost every time I meal prep. Why wouldn’t I when I can cook a melt-in-your-mouth beef stew in 20 minutes, get rice and beans done in 12 without presoaking anything, and have perfectly tender chicken in 6-8 minutes. Y’all, get a pressure cooker!
Salad Spinner – no one likes soggy leaves and watery herbs. Use it. It’s awesome
Garlic Press – I love garlic, I put it in as much dishes as I can. Having a press makes it so much easier and faster to work with.
A good set of sharp knives – the most dangerous tool in your kitchen is your knife. No, not because it is sharp, but because it is dull. Yep. You read that right. Dull knives do not “bite” into food well and can slip. It can be hard to keep sharp knives in your house when your family uses knives for everything except for their intended purpose. The struggle is real! I remember coming into my kitchen and seeing one of my relatives, who will remain unnamed, use my nice razor sharp slicer for a household project. I nearly fainted. Yes, I am overprotective over my knives, but that’s also the reason why I haven’t had a knife injury in years. Oven burns? Sure. Accidental stabbings? Nope. But seriously, to keep your family away from your nice sharp knives, leave your old knives in the kitchen and easily accessible for your non cooking family members to use when they need a knife and keep your super sharp, nice set safely out of the way. Or teach your family members to respect your baldes. It’s your choice.
A solid cutting board – glass cutting boards dull knives. Don’t use them. Plastic is great for meat, poultry, and seafood work as it is easily disinfected. Wood is great for breads, veggies, and cheese. Taking care of a nice wooden board is actually really easy. There are only two rules: 1) never soak the board or put it in the dishwasher 2) use mineral oil to condition your board and keep it safe and crack free.
Meal Prep 101 Tips and Tricks
This is when reading your recipes really pays off. Figure out what you need and when you need it. Do you need to defrost your protein? You should probably do that before you do anything else. Do you have a dish that calls for cooked rice? You should get your rice going before you move on to anything else since rice takes forever to make.
After you clean and prep your protein, put away all of the cutting boards, disinfect all of the surfaces, and clean your knives and sink. The last thing you need is salmonella. Practice food safety.
Wash all of your veggies and other ingredients needed to make your dishes. Dice, julienne, and / or cube (the recipe usually tells you what kind of cut it calls for) you produce, set it in the containers near your stove or cooking station and then and only then start assembling your dishes. You have to do the prep work before you dive into cooking. Trust me, it is so much easier when you already have your ingredients ready to go. Just ask any pro.
This is by no means a full on extensive guide on how to meal prep. I can talk about this subject for hours and it took me nearly 6 hours to put together this post. Why? Because I have a lot to say on the subject. Especially to those of you who are just starting out and come to my seminars telling me that they have no idea how to cook and that it is too late to learn. Y’all, anyone is capable of making 4 simple dishes in 2 hours. I’m serious. I have taught people who had zero prior kitchen experience how to prep like seasoned pros and eat like kings. Drop by one of the seminars. You won’t regret it. Also, take advantage of the freebie. It’s a simple meal plan with grocery list, planner, and instructions. I hand it out to all of my Fierce Club clients every month. It’s awesome.
One of the first questions a new client usually asks me has something to do with workout supplements. The questions vary across the board, but the most prevalent once are:
Should I use a protein powder?
Should I take a fat burner?
What supplement will help me lose the most weight?
Subscribe to our blog and get a free Diet, Nutrition, & Workout Assessment. Find it out if what you are doing is effective!
In this week’s post I will talk about the most commonly used supplements and whether or not they are an effective tool to jump start your results. We will also talk about the “staple” supplements and why I think they should be a part of a good health regiment. With that said, never, and I mean NEVER, take any kind of supplements without consulting your doctor. Supplement toxicity is a common and dangerous condition.
I would like to preface this post by saying that I am not loyal to one particular supplement brand and I honestly think that there are plenty of supplement brands out there that have merit. Personally, I use supplements from 3-4 different companies (I will mention why a bit later) and find that it works great for me. When I select a supplement I make sure that 1) it is safe for me to use (no banned substances, steroids, or heavy metals) 2) the potency is clearly stated on the label 3) I actually need every ingredient that is indicated on the supplement. We will talk about selecting safe supplements later in this post.
Picking a Supplement
Before I even start talking about the effectiveness of supplements and supplement compounds I want to talk about safety. You guys already know that above all, safety comes first in my practice and therefore I’m here to give you some tools to keep you bodies safe and sound.
A single supplement can come from hundreds of brands. What makes one supplement brand superior to another? Contrary to popular opinion having a pro athlete endorse a supplement does not make that supplement good or safe. Most of the time, endorsers promote supplement brands because they get paid to do so. Some don’t even take the supplements they endorse. So, who do you believe? How do you know if the supplement is good?
FDA does not regulate supplement production. However, in order for a manufacturer to qualify for supplement production their facility must undergo an FDA inspection. Notice that I said “facility” not the actual line of supplements. What that means is that a facility has to meet the minimum requirements for food and drug safety, the product doesn’t.
That’s why there are so many brands out there that can get away with adding antidepressants, heavy metal stabilizers, steroids, and other banned substances to their supplement mix and not disclose it on the label. There are not official guideline for supplement production, purity, and potency standards. None. Period.
The good news is: there are independent labs (not sponsored by any supplement brand or the government) that perform regular purity, safety, and potency testing. The bad news is that the supplement company has to request testing of their products from these independent labs at which point the lab randomly pulls batches of product from production and tests them. In a nutshell, if you have a product that does not abide by the purity and safety standards, you don’t have to test it and you can still sell it to the public without any recourse.
The two most trusted independent labs are Informed Choice and Consumer Lab. When I find a supplement that I think I would like / need, I always check the research and the lab reports first. If the product is good and safe, I consult my doctor and give it a try. However, if it isn’t, I move on. That’s also part of the reason why I do not endorse or promote supplement brands. A brand may have a few products that are tested and safe, but the rest of the products from that same brand can come up a tainted.
Before you buy any supplement, do your research. The two lab links above is a good place to start.
Supplements With Banned Substances
Every one of us, at one point in time, wished that the pounds would fall off faster, the muscles would get bigger, that the cellulite would disappear, and that we would be a tight and toned beast in 2 weeks instead of 2 years. Some folks turn to banned substances for quicker results. What are these “banned” substances, you will ask, and who bans them?
World Anti-Doping Agency and World Anti-Doping Code is “the core document that harmonizes anti-doping policies, rules and regulations within sport organizations and among public authorities around the world. It works in conjunction with five International Standards which aim to foster consistency among anti-doping organizations in various areas: testing; laboratories; Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs); the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods; and the protection of privacy and personal information”. WADA regulation usually apply to all major sports, however, some sports may have an additional list of prohibited supplements and compounds. For example, North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation has an extensive list of prohibited substances on their website in addition to the general WADA regulations. The NFL has it’s own Drug Program with regular testing not only to prevent the use of performance enhancing substances, but also to make sure that the players are not abusing other, more common substances. The NFL is usually really good about letting their active and prospective players know if some of the more common supplements become tainted. If you are planning on playing football professionally, I would make it a concentrated effort to ensure that you are safe by checking the NFL player portal.
Now that you know where to look for banned substances and how to keep yourself safe, let’s dive in and take a look at some of the more popular supplements.
Most Popular Supplements
A pre-workout supplement is usually a compound powder taken before workouts to boost energy, endurance, and focus. The contents of these powders vary depending on the brand and the intensity of the compound. Some of the most common ingredients in a pre-workout supplement are: caffeine, L-Arginine, and BCAAs.
Choosing one of these pre-workout drinks can be a bit tricky. I recommend you look at the label and do some research. Make sure that your supplement is free of ephedra (although it has been banned in the US, some supplements can still be spiked with it) and steroids. Checking the independent lab reports is very helpful to determine if your pre-workout powder is safe.
If you are new to working out or if you are shooting for a more mild but effective mix, I recommend going for a BCAA supplement with a bit of caffeine or just plain caffeine. A cup of black coffee does the trick for me when I run out of my pre workout mix.
I prefer my supplements in the purest form possible (meaning no flavor, no color, no additives). Although some anti clumping agents are an inevitable part of taking supplements, I prefer to know that I can alter the taste of my drink at any point by simply adding tea, mio, or orange juice to it. If you are new in the world of supplements or don’t yet know how much of what you need to take, talk to a nutrition coach, a sports RDN, or your doctor about it. They’ll be able to advise you on the powders that are safe for you to take and will also help you determine the amounts. I will say this again, do not attempt to do this alone, without close supervision from a medical professional. Supplement toxicity is real and it is very dangerous.
Vitamins E, D, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and B Complex
Y’all, I’m going to just come out and say this right off the bat — if you haven’t had your blood panel yet, DO NOT TAKE THESE! A simple blood test during your yearly physical examination will show your doctor if you are deficient. More is not always better and it is definitely not better when it comes to these supplements. If your blood work comes back as normal or within normal range, you do not need to add any more of these supplements to your diet.
Simply put, creatine is often talked about as a steroid alternative, but the function of this supplement is closer to the process of glycogen loading than a steroid. Simply put, just as consuming carbohydrates maximizes the glycogen stores in your muscle tissue, “creatine loading” can increase creatine stores which will increase ATP resynthesis (ATP is the main energy source for the majority of cellular function. It’s what you use when you workout).
According to the research, creatine loading will delay fatigue during repeated, all-out surges of exercise followed by a rest period (read: lifting weights) consequently increasing your strength. These strength increases come at a price, though. Creatine may cause elevated creatinine levels in the kidneys. Usually it is not such a big deal, especially in healthy, young athletes, however, if you take anti-inflammatory or any other medications that influence your kidney function, adding a creatine supplement may spell bad news for you and your body.
Personally, I can’t take creatine just for that reason. My back injury requires a regular regimen of NSAIDs and therefore, it is not worth the damage to my kidneys. I would urge you to talk to your doctor about creatine supplementation. They may be able to help you creatine load safely without putting your health at risk. After all, half of the bodybuilding community is on it and are doing just fine.
There’s a lot of talk in the sports nutrition community about the effectiveness of amino acid supplementation. The claims are that amino acids promote lean body mass, shortens recovery time, and helps with injury rehabilitation. Who wouldn’t want more muscle, right? Well, there are two camps of scientists (isn’t that a shocking thing). The first claims that oral amino acid supplementation provides negligible concentration (yes, even at a 2-3 gram dose) of amino acids to make a difference, the other argues that every little bit helps.
In order to provide my readers with the best and most accurate information, I try not to talk about anecdotal evidence and propagate the fitness and nutrition myths. With that said, I have seen both sides of this argument and therefore I can not definitively say that amino acid supplementation is going to be effective for YOU.
I can, however say this, eating a high animal protein diet will provide you with enough essential amino acids to promote lean body mass on it’s own. That is a scientific fact.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and is used as a fuel source by the cells of the immune system. Low glutamine levels have been associated with over training and higher chances of upper respiratory infections (looking at you, runners). Glutamine deficiency is a cumulative condition that stems from inadequate recovery time between training sessions. The deficiency can be offset by regularly consuming carbohydrates in adequate amounts for your particular sport / activity. Although most research is needed to form a definitive conclusion over the effectiveness of this supplement, so far, one thing is clear – more carbs at the right time are the key to staying healthy and fit. If, however, you are on a low carb diet, supplementing with glutamine can be a good idea.
Simply put, these are steroids and they are currently banned by WADA and every major professional sports organization with the exception of non regulated bodybuilding. It is, of course, up to you if you want to take these supplements, however, if you want to stand a chance to be a professional athlete or ever have any elective surgery, I would highly advise you stay away from any supplement that has these in any amount.
The most widely used supplement out there is protein powder. How did we ever live without it? There are hundreds of brands on the market and a variety of flavors to choose from. Protein powder can come from whey, pea, rice, soy, beef (not as gross as you may think), eggs, and hemp just to name a few. Every one of these powders have their pros and cons. Some powders react better when heated, some don’t. To learn more about protein powders and to get recipes and snack ideas, check out Protein (Pow)der cookbook. Her blog is pretty awesome too. She explains in painstaking detail everything you may want to know about protein powders and how to use them.
The only thing that I will say on the subject of protein powder supplements other than the fact that they are a lifesaver is this: be careful of the brands that have not been tested by the independent labs. Heavy metals, dangerous stabilizers and even steroid contamination are a real issue with some brands. Check the sites in the first section of this post to learn more about being safe when picking a protein powder.
Coffee and Caffeine
Most of us drink coffee regularly so you already know the dangers that over caffeinating may cause. In a few recent studies involving cyclists, the research showed, that those who have consumed caffeine before cycling were faster and more focused. As long as you use caffeine in moderation, you should be safe. Check with your doctor if you have any serious heart conditions or seizure disorders.
The claims are that curcumin component of turmeric can reduce inflammation. Although it is true, the amount of turmeric you need to consume for this to be true, is astronomical. Be smart, don’t waste your money.
As mentioned previously, mineral toxicity is dangerous. With multivitamins being a compound product (containing more than one vitamin / mineral), you don’t really know if you are going to put yourself in danger by adding yet another supplement on top of your stack. As always, and I know you guys are sick of me saying it, do a blood test, talk to your doctor about your deficiencies if any and see what the medical professionals have to say. In addition to being safe, it may just save you from spending hundreds of dollars on unnecessary supplements.
Whole -Food Concentrate (Green Supplement)
We all heard our mom telling us to eat our greens. Well, if you are an adult and you hate veggies, this may just be the game change. Green Supplement is a condensed form of powdered fruits and vegetables. It may taste like a lawn clipping, but it will save you from nutrient deficiency the safe way.
Omega 3, 6, 9
Omegas are heart healthy, reduce inflammation, help digestion and nutrient absorption, and help you recover faster from workouts.
Probiotic is a live, active bacteria which helps with digestion, nutrient absorption, and improves your immune system.
In the beginning of this post I said that I will tell you about the “staple” set of supplements that I tell my clients about. Well, here it is:
|Protein Powder||Great snack and a great way to get enough protein in your diet.|
|Omega 3, 6, 9 Complex||Heart healthy, helps with post workout recovery.|
|Probiotic||Helps with digestion, nutrient absorption, and boosts the immune system.|
|Fiber||Helps keep you regular, helps keep you full, promotes nutrient absorption and digestion.|
|Green Supplement||If you hate to eat green things, this is for you. End of story.|
The Supplement Companies I Purchase From
I purchase supplements for my personal use from a few different providers. I have checked all of these companies for purity and potency standards, however, as this post “ages” so will this information. Before purchasing any supplement always check with Informed Choice or Consumer Labs to make sure that the data in this part of the post is still accurate and up to date.
Green Supplement Greens+ – Genuine Health a Canadian company known for excellent dietary supplement products.
Spark and Arginine (Pre-workout) – Advocare. Yes, you have to know a distributor to get the products and more than likely they will ask you to join the ranks, however, some of their products are actually pretty good. The drawback is that they are not cheap and that you have to jump through a bit of hoops to get them. Hey, I’m being honest here, don’t get all uppity, Adovcare folk.
Probiotcs – Advocare.
Fiber – Advocare
Whey Protein – Quest Nutrition you can now find basically anywhere, a bit pricey.
Ready to drink whey protein – EAS is a brand available at the grocery store and at Walmart. It is budget friendly, easy to find, and safe.
BCAAs – GNC
North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation Banned Substances – http://nanbf.org/banned-substances/
World Anti-Doping Agency Code – https://www.wada-ama.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/wada-2015-world-anti-doping-code.pdf
NFL Player’s Association Drug Program Resource – https://www.nflpa.com/active-players/drug-policies
Informed Choice – http://www.informed-choice.org/
Consumer Labs – http://www.consumerlab.com
Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, 3rd Edition, Ryan, Monique
Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition, 4th Edition, Fink, Heather Hendrick Mikesky, Allan
Nutrition is a mystery to most of my new clients. When I talk about nutrition basics at my seminars, most people tend to have a lot of misconceptions about what a balanced diet is and how it could be tailored to help them reach their fitness and health goals. I can’t tell you how often I hear about the latest crash diet, supplement, or an “amazing new detox” that helped millions to lose weight. I’ll be frank with you, folks, at this point in my coaching career, things like that make me want to scream… …on the inside. Every. Time.
I know it is not your fault, I know that you are doing the best you can. No, I’m not mad at you. I am mad at the social media and MLM companies for taking good people who are trying to get fit down a deep dark path of dangerous shortcuts to fleeting results. No, I’m not saying that I have all of the answers, but I do have a long list of happy clients and years of research and experience to back up sustainable dieting. It works. However, sustainable dieting starts with nutrition basics and that’s exactly what this post is all about.
Today we will learn how to build a training diet that will promote optimal health and a strong immune system. We will identify the most nutritious sources of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
This freebie is the single most downloaded piece of content I have. It is a practical, easy to use guide to getting and staying fit. Ready to break free from yo-yo dieting and lose weight, gain muscle, and get fit without the stress? Get the freebie. Seriously.
Importance of Proper Nutrition
Eating whole foods (unprocessed or minimally processed) will make you healthier, strong, leaner, and boost your immune system. Although food is not going to cure you from any serious chronic illnesses, there is a possibility to ease symptoms of some skin conditions, allergies, and take preventative steps to ensure your continued good health.
Drinking water – clears acne, ensures proper kidney function, and helps with nutrient absorption which boosts metabolism.
Eating a variety of cruciferous vegetables introduces fiber, phytonutrients, and a variety of vitamins and minerals all of which have immune boosting benefits and some are currently being researched as potential cancer preventing substances.
Proper nutrition is especially important for anyone who is engaging in rigorous training, sports training, or frequent high intensity cardio circuit training.
When you are training, your body is busy rebuilding and repairing muscle fibers (which is essentially where muscle mass comes from). That takes a lot of energy. When we don’t get enough nutrition or get the wrong kind of nutrition, you are taking away from the healing process and increasing the stress you put on your body. To support your body in its effort to rebuild, heal, and get stronger, you need to treat it with the respect it deserves.
- Get enough sleep
- Eat right
- Drink water (I wrote a great post on the subject, make sure you check it out)
- Take supplements that are crucial for YOU
If you have been training long enough, you have undoubtedly heard the pro talk about “hitting their macros” or the “If It Fits Your Macros” approach to dieting. But do you know what macros really are?
Simply put, macronutrients or “macros” are protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Nutrition Basics: Protein – 4 kcal/g
Protein is necessary for tissue growth (muscle), production of antibodies to fight infection, and proper digestive function. When you digest protein it is broken into amino acids which are then reassembled into hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters. Amino acids are the building blocks of your brain’s neural network and have significant impact on on your mood and brain function.
Your body needs 22 different amino acid types to function properly. Adults can synthesize 13 out of 22 within the body (non-essential amino acids). The other 9 (essential amino acids) need to come from food or be supplemented. Have you ever heard your coach tell you that you need to take some BCAAs before and after your workout? That’s what he was talking about. But more on that later. It is the essential amino acid profile that qualifies a protein as either a Lean Complete Protein or (LCP) or an Incomplete Protein. When your nutrition coach writes your diet, they will mostly focus on LCP.
A LCP contains 9 essential amino acids, and typically come from animal proteins. For example, lean beef, lean pork, eggs, all types of fish, mollusks, and shellfish, dairy products.
Complete Proteins can also come from plants. However, there may not be enough essential amino acids in the plant based proteins or the amounts of the 9 essential amino acids may not be enough. Dietitians and nutrition coaches specializing in plant based diets recommend combining plant based proteins to complement each other in amino acid needs. Some plant based complete proteins include: Quinoa, buckwheat, hemp.
Incomplete Protein Sources
Incomplete protein sources either don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids or contain them in too small of a quantity. For example: Nuts & Seeds, legumes, grains, and vegetables. As mentioned previously if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, most clinical nutritionists and plant based dietitians recommend combining incomplete proteins in order to get the complete 9 essential amino acids in every serving. There has been some debate about whether or not combining incomplete proteins with other complementary proteins to form a complete amino acid profile is an effective strategy. I am a firm believer in variety, so I stick to the combo method just for the sake of avoiding food boredom. With that said, just because a protein is incomplete, it doesn’t mean it is inferior. It just needs to be combined or supplemented.
Before you ask, yes, there is a controversy surrounding which protein is better for you: plant based or animal derived. There is no consensus on the subject and more research is needed. Based on that, my recommendation is as follows: Eat what makes you happy.
Usually, inactive adults need about 0.36 grams/ lb of body weight. If you are active or an athlete, the general guideline recommends 1 gram/ lb of body weight. However, depending on your size, type of training, and the duration of training that number may rise or fall. However, if you are just trying to stay healthy, 1 gram/lb seems to be the sweet spot for most folks.
Nutrition Basics: Carbohydrates – 4 kcal/g
How do you know if something is a carbohydrate? Well, everything that is not a protein or a fat is a carb. It’s really as simple as that. So, is broccoli a carbohydrate? Yep. It is. What about carrots? Yep, carbs. How about lettuce? You betcha. Don’t freak out, it’s not that bad… Yes, carbs are unavoidable unless you are on 100% meat diet. Seriously. But are carbs bad for you? NO!
Just like protein, regardless of the source, a pure carbohydrate is 4 kcal/g. Yes, that means that 100 processed white table sugar is 4 calories per gram and so is oatmeal, agave syrup, and honey. The difference is in the structure and nutritional density that a food provides. With that said, a piece of white bread is going to provide you with a less nutrients then an apple and they have about the same amount of carbohydrates. To get the most out of your cabs and help you keep your waist line fit, prioritize eating complex carbohydrates vs. simple.
Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are broken down into Simple and Complex
Simple- simple in structure. And can be found in fruit, berries, sugar, white rice, and starchy vegetables. Simple carbohydrates are fast absorbing and are better for you before or after exercise.
Complex carbs- contain more fiber, absorb slower, more beneficial for weight loss.
Both have a time and a place in an athlete’s diet. Although most people should stick to complex carbs, athletes may require fat absorbing carbs to boost performance and optimize muscle development. Marathoners and other long distance runners rely on fast absorbing carbs to meet the energy requirements during long runs. When I use to run long distance, I kept a few honey packets in my race belt. When I hit that dreaded wall, I would suck down a honey packet and in a few minutes — BOOM! Energy!
|Simple Carbs||Complex Carbs|
|White Rice||Whole Wheat Products|
To get a list of complex carbohydrates and more helpful nutrition information download the freebie for this post.
Nutrition Basics: Fats – 9 kcal/g
Fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient. Yes, fat from butter carries the same amount of caloric weight as fat from coconut oil. The only difference is the quality of fat.
There are many types of fat and regardless of the stigma attached to fat, not all of it is bad.
Saturated fat should be about ⅓ part of your fat intake. This type of fat comes from animal products and tropical oils. Recent research indicates that saturated fats are not as bad they we initially thought they were. Some saturated fats, such as saturated fats from tropical oils, are actually considered to be healthy fats. However, highly processed saturated fats, such as margarine are not as beneficial.
Polyunsaturated fat should amount to about ⅓ daily intake and have a high concentration of omega 3.
Monounsaturated fat comes from plant based products. Some examples of monounsaturated fats are corn oil, canola, and vegetable oil. Although not necessarily bad, the intake of these oils should be limited.
When adding fat to your diet choose fats from whole, unprocessed sources.
- Naturally ground nut butter
- Fatty, wild caught fish
- Grass fed beef and butter
- Full fat dairy products that come from pastured livestock
- Fresh olives or cold pressed olive oil
I’m a realist and I know that we can’t eat 100% healthy all the time. Yes, you can get and stay fit without taking supplements, but in some situation a little bit of help on your fitness journey never hurt. I won’t tell you to choose one supplement brand over another, however, I will recommend you do your research before you buy any kind of supplements. Start by checking and independent quality control lab like Informed Choice or Consumer Lab. Both of these organizations test supplements to ensure that the amounts on the label match actually concentrations and that the supplements are free of band and harmful substances.
Get your blood work done before you take any supplements. Mineral toxicity is a real and dangerous thing. If you doctor looks at your blood work and determines that you need to add Vitamin D and a multivitamin to your daily regiment – do it. More isn’t always better. Especially not in the case of supplements.
Whatever your reasons are for taking supplements, most of my clients who workout consistently can benefit from the following supplements being introduced into their diet to help supplement nutrient intake.
The Essential Supplements
Protein powder – there is a variety to choose from and all have merit. Do your research. Protein (POW)der website is a gold mine of information about the variety and merits of different proteins. I highly recommend their cookbook as well. It was a game changer for me,
- Egg white
- Beef protein
- Brown rice
BCAAs the 9 essential amino acids
- Great for recovery, maintaining muscle mass while endurance training or cutting
- Provides a boost of energy
- Completes otherwise incomplete protein sources
A combination of these omegas can help you recover, help with nutrient absorption, reduces inflammation.
Most adults don’t get enough of it in their diet. Helps with digestion, bowel movements, keeps you fuller.
Helps maintain a healthy gut flora, boosts immune function, helps regulate our bowel movements, helps with nutrient absorption.
There will be days when getting to the gym is just not realistic. Instead of skipping the workout all together, there are a few things that you can do at home with minimal equipment or just by using your body weight. Let’s be realistic, life gets in the way, people get busy, things happen, and the workout ends up taking a backseat to the real life. However, if there is even a remote chance of you burning some calories in between running errands and picking your kids up from school, well, that’s a win and a step in the right direction.
Subscribe to our blog and get a few workouts you can do at home with minimal equipment.
You and I both know that workout equipment can be expansive and can take up a lot of space in your home. If you are already paying for a gym membership, there is no reason why you should invest in more equipment (unless you have a very specific need). However, if you have a demanding schedule, travel a lot, or live in an area where bad weather frequently makes it impossible to travel to a gym, these suggestions may come in handy.
TRX or Other Suspension training system
Suspension Training Systems have become increasingly popular in the recent years. The system usually attaches to a door or any other solid surface. The suspension training system allows you to use your body weight to perform a variety of resistance training exercises. It is a great, fairly safe way to workout.
Although the brand name TRX system can be fairly pricey, there are a bunch of other suspension systems that can run as low as $40. Check Amazon for some ideas. I will have some of my Amazon affiliate links at the end of the article.
Bands and Thera-Straps
Bands and straps are good for more than just stretching. Tension bands can be banded together to increase resistance or separated for lighter exercises. These are perfect for those who cannot vertically load (meaning squat with a barbell) due to spinal and knee injuries. The price point for a set of tension bands rarely exceeds $40.
Yoga Balls are great for stretching and in combination with tension bands and even a TRX. usually you can find a yoga ball at any major retailer and the general price point is about $20.
Do you remember jumping rope when you were a kid? Yep, now you can do this as an adult and get fit! There are a variety of ropes you can choose from: from your basic jump rope to speed ropes, you can have it all. If you have good knees and back, enjoy high intensity intervals, or just want to relive the joy of your childhood, this is a great to have on hand. Prices for jump ropes vary drastically depending on the kind of rope you need and whether or not you are getting it custom made.
Of course there are other things that you can have at home, but I find these to be the most useful, cheapest, and more compact.
Finally, don’t forget to download the freebie for this blog post with some workouts you can do at home with minimal equipment or with no equipment at all.
Most of my clients are busy people who have very little time for themselves and their families. Needless to say, that fitness and healthy eating often take a back seat to my clients busy schedule. This has been a growing problem in my practice and I don’t think that it is going to get any better, so I figured it would be a good idea to create a post that may help you make time for fitness. So, how do you get fit with a busy schedule?
Making and Sticking to a Schedule
This may sound like a no-brainier, but scheduling the time to workout and putting it on the calendar gets often overlooked. I don’t know about you, but I am a planner, so if there is an open time slot in my schedule it will be filled with meetings, appointments, and other things that need to get done. That’s why I always block off an hour and a half at the beginning of my day to dedicate to fitness.
Subscribe to our blog and get a few easy recipes to keep you well fed and fit. Don’t miss your opportunity to grab these get fit dump dinners.
You will miss workouts, that’s just a fact of life. You will forget or run out of time to meal prep and will have to find a way to get healthy food elsewhere. The important part is not to beat yourself up about it. Since you have already missed your session and / or already ate something you are not suppose to, move on. Every minute is another chance to start fresh. Just because you had a fried chicken biscuit for breakfast, doesn’t mean that you should go ahead and eat fried chicken and pie for lunch. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. You got this.
Just Let it Go and Stop Obsessing
For those of you who love to track your food, don’t obsess about nailing your macros 100% all the time. The macro percentages in the food tracking apps are more of a suggestion rather than a requirement.
If your coach or your dietitian gave you a specific diet to follow, meal prep rather than going by the numbers. The nutrient logs in food tracking apps are riddled with nutrition facts errors and will often be wrong. Additionally, food tracking can contribute to food anxiety and a host of other issues.
My advice is that you should concentrate on your portion size and on the types of foods you eat rather than on the amount of food you consume. Check my Resource page for a helpful, free guide on portion size, pre and post workout meals and a healthy grocery list.
Time Saving Tips for Meal Prep and Workouts
If you have a hard time sticking to a schedule, you may also have a hard time setting aside the time to create your workouts and meal prep. A few months back I wrote a blog post detailing money and time saving meal prep tricks. Here’s a link. The tips in this blog post will save you time and hopefully help you stay sane and fit.
As for your workouts… We post a lot of free workout content on our social media pages. Go through our picture albums on Facebook, look at our Instagram account, there are literally hundreds of free workouts designed to annihilate fat and build muscle.
Who to Hire to Help You Cook and Workout
Of course, if you have no time to do any of that, you can hire people to do it for you. Obviously you can hire a personal trainer to help you with your workouts and motivation. Some people find it much easier to get to the gym when someone is waiting for them there, alternatively, you can hire an online personal trainer or an eCoach. Most eCoaches are also certified nutrition coaches and can help you with meal plans and meal prep advice.
As for food prep, there are a few things you can do here. Look up paleo meal prep services in your area. Many CrossFit boxes and small neighborhood gyms work with a catering company or a local chef to supply their members with healthy food options. The food is usually pretty reasonably priced and costs only a few dollars more per serving than what it would cost you to prepare it yourself. The biggest advantage of local meal prep services is the amount of time it will save you on your weekly meal prep. Usually, a meal prep service can cost between $9-$11 per serving.
If you actually enjoy cooking but have no time to grocery shop, a produce delivery service from Whole Foods or Kroger, Publix, and Walmart grocery curb side pick-up services are amazing. Alternatively, you could also sign up for meal delivery service such as Blue Apron or Hello Fresh.
Personally, I prefer a combination of local meal prep service and just regularly grocery shopping and prepping. In my area (Lawrenceville, GA), I order my meal prep from Sabor Fresh. I usually get anywhere between 6-12 meals (just enough for 2 meal a day for 6 days) and the rest of the meal I make.
When I have time I prepare “dump” dinner kits and freeze them to use later when my husband and I are both slammed and have no time to cook or think about dinner. Dump dinners are simple. Just put a bunch of veggies and protein in a large plastic bag, and freeze. When you are ready to cook, just dump it all into a slow cooker and cook it on low for 8 hours. By the time you get home – your dinner will be ready. Dump dinners usually last about 4-6 weeks in the freezer.
Download the freebie to get more quick dinner ideas and dump dinner kit recipes.
If you are just starting out, it could be tough to know what you are getting into. How do you know if the gym you are joining is actually worth it? How much should your monthly membership be? Should you get a trainer? How do you know if this trainer is any good? Not to worry, this blog post will prepare you to take your first steps into the fitness world with confidence.
Picking a Gym Membership
Should you pick the gym with the pool, sauna, and tanning beds or should you stick with one of those “non judgmental” chains? Should you do crossfit or should you join a small lifting gym owned by a local entrepreneur? Well, it all depends on your budget, where you are in your fitness journey, and what you have available to you in your area.
I will break this section down by the exercise experience. I will outline the benefits and drawbacks of the major gym types. Although I will not name any names directly, you may recognize some of the gyms I am talking about. First, let’s talk about the types of gyms that are available.
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A large chain gym: this category encompasses any large gym. Whether this gym is catering predominantly to the bodybuilding community, families, or that one gym that claims to have a judgement free environment by isolating 40% of the fitness industry.
Benefits of a large chain gym:
- A chain will usually have more than one location, so regardless of where you are, you will likely be able to workout in any one of the locations.
- Large gyms also offer a variety of programs (from guided classes to personal training) that you may be able to join by only a slight up charge.
- Usually a larger gym will have a staff of personal trainers. Having more than one trainer available to you allows you to pick the specialty and skill level of a trainer to help you meet your fitness goals.
- Larger gyms have more equipment, therefore you may not have to wait as long to get on a treadmill or for the bench press rack to free up.
- Larger facilities also often offer access to a pool, spa, track, and larger locker rooms.
Drawbacks of a larger chain:
- Although there is plenty of staff on hand, it’s easy to become “just another face in the crowd” at those gyms.
- Unless you are training with a personal trainer, the accountability structure is virtually nonexistent.
- The price point for the membership is also significantly higher.
Small chain gyms:
You see these gyms a in strip malls rather than stand alone buildings. They usually have a number in the name, such as 19 or 24. You know the ones I’m talking about.
- Smaller facilities usually have a more personalized service (if there is an attendant on duty).
- You are less likely to “slip through the cracks” if you really need help.
- The price point is significantly lower than that of a large gym.
- These gyms are usually open 24 hr / day.
- Smaller facilities have smaller staff and a smaller staff of personal trainers to pick from. So, if you have a personality conflict with one of the trainers it will be tougher to get on the schedule of another trainer.
- Although there usually are a few surveillance cameras installed and there may even be an attendant on duty, the 24 hr facilities can be dangerous. No, not necessarily in terms of crime, but in terms of workout equipment safety.
Small lifting studio or privately owned gym:
You have likely seen them around your community. It is a small gym, usually specialized in training a specific segment of the fitness population. There are lifting gyms that usually cater to a more aesthetically inclined group of clients (body builders, people who would like to look good and feel good). CrossFit box that usually caters to crossfitters, people who enjoy high intensity workouts, and cross training. Cardio based studios include zumba, spin, aerobics or a combination. Then you have a collection of sport specific gyms and dojos.
- These small gyms are better suited for immersion in your specific field of interest. If you want to “tone” and look great, a lifting gym will be perfect for you. However, if you enjoy being a sweaty mess and like eating meat, CrossFit will be right for you.
- Smaller gyms are usually run by local entrepreneurs. More often than not, the owners are heavily invested in the success of their business venture and will do anything to compete with the larger facilities. The customer service and accountability is usually much better than at a larger facility and if you have a complaint you will likely deal directly with the owner.
- Small studious usually employ top notch personal trainers. If the owner is truly determined to make a difference with his or her facility, personal trainers go through intensive interviewing process and usually have a pretty detailed specialty.
- There usually isn’t a pool, spa, or other amenities of a large gym chain.
- The price point is higher than the small chain gyms but could be lower than the large chain gyms. Honestly, the price point for a privately owned facility can fluctuate wildly depending on the services they provide and what they specialize in.
- If the owners are not invested in the quality of training and their facility, the atmosphere and quality of training will suffer.
- There are less personal trainers to choose from. So, if you have a personality conflict with one, you may not be able to get on the schedule of another.
Fitness Level: Beginner
If you are absolutely new to fitness, this is the section for you. So, who is considered a “beginner”? If you or someone you know have not exercises in more than 5 years, you are a beginner. Yes, even if you were a running back in high school and you are coming back to train 15 years later – you are a beginner. Sorry. Obviously, if you have never worked out, you are a beginner as well.
The gym types that are perfect for a person new to exercise:
Small, privately owned gyms or personal training in a larger facility.
Usually, even if you decide to train by yourself at a small privately owned gym, chances are the employees or the owners, or both will keep you accountable and help you with using the equipment. Often, smaller fitness studios will have introductory seminars for their newer member where they teach beginners how to use the equipment, build their diet, and change their lifestyle to be healthier and more fit.
Fitness Level: Intermediate
If you have been working out for a couple of years or you have a generally good understanding of fitness, you are intermediate. You already know which gym is best for you, however if you just want to double check…
The best gym for an intermediate fitness hobbyist is a large chain gym or a small privately owned facility.
Fitness Level: Pro
You guys know who you are. If you are rolling around with a cooler and a gallon of water, speak in fitness jargon and can school some of the best personal trainers in the field.
You also know where you fall in the gym spectrum, but in case some of the novice folks are wondering the pros can be found in every gym… well, maybe not in the “non judgement” gym because their non judgement philosophy does not cover the pros.
Interviewing Your Personal Trainer:
Are you nationally certified / accredited?
Most gyms require nationally recognized certifications. Being nationally certified insures that the trainer received the appropriate training and isn’t just a weekend warrior. Nationally certified trainers usually have to take anywhere from 3-6 month long certification process. The process usually involves learning major muscle groups, mobility, queuing, kinesiology, and understanding of human movement and injury prevention. Nationally accepted certifications include: National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), ACSM
Most gyms have umbrella insurance that covers their trainers, however, even if the gym umbrella insurance is extensive, you will likely get very little in terms of compensation should serious injury occur. If you choose to sue and go after the trainer for the remainder of the money, chances are you won’t get very much. Yes, you guessed right, trainers are not the richest people on the planet. In fact, most are struggling to make ends meet. However, the trainer who carries additional insurance will be able to fall back on their policy. Really, the additional insurance is there to protect both you and your trainer and make sure that their life is not ruined in case of an injury that they may or may not be responsible for.
Is you CPR/AED certification current?
You really do not want to end up in a position where you need your heart restarted and your trainer forgets where to attach the electrodes. Better safe than sorry.
What is your specialization? If so, do you carry corresponding certification for your specialization?
Most trainers have a specialization. It can be anything from rehabilitation to strength training. However, some trainers are just “general practitioners” meaning they train a little bit in every field. If you have special needs like pregnancy, orthopedic injuries, age related problems, or specific sports goals, you will likely want to train with a specialist trainer. Specialists usually charge more per hour, but it is one of the sure ways to prevent injury.
What is your session cancellation policy?
Some trainers have pretty strict cancellation policies. The reason for that is some clients really take advantage of the trainers time. Most trainers will have charge you for a session if you no-call-no-show. However, trainers at busier gyms may have a cancellation grace period during which you can cancel your session and reschedule without penalty. Life gets in the way, we get it, but no-call-no-shows derail our day just as much as clients running late or cancelling at the last possible minute. Knowing your trainers cancellation policy will help you get the most out of your training and potentially save you some burpees.
Do you have a sports nutrition certification?
Many trainers will advise a nutrition plan or a diet. There’s nothing wrong with the general advice of what eating healthy should look like. However, some will try to go further and attempt to modify their client’s diets and dictate specific caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown. If that is the case, the trainer should hold a current sports nutrition certification or be a registered dietitian. Sports nutrition coaches and registered dietitians go through extensive training and can help you modify your diet in a safe way. Trainers without proper certifications may advise dangerous diets and severe caloric restrictions which could be dangerous.
What events, seminars, group classes are offered with personal training?
Some gyms will offer additional classes and seminars at no extra charge for their personal training clients.
Are you associated with / a distributor of any supplement company?
This is a touchy subject but I will talk about it nonetheless. Some coaches and trainers are affiliates or distributors for supplement companies. There is nothing wrong with trying to augment your income by selling supplements, especially when they are safe, clean, and effective. However, not every trainer is in it for the right reasons and may try to sell you thing you do not need or supplements that have not been tested by independent labs for safety. Always do your own research before taking any supplements. Check our resource page for links to independent labs that test and review supplements and supplement brands.