by Bonnie Taub-Dix MA, RDN, CDN
Have you ever had what I call a “Ratatouille moment?” You may have had one without realizing it, so let me explain what this is:
In the tender movie Ratatouille, a food critic sits down at a restaurant table and tastes a dish of ratatouille, a combination of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, and a blend of seasonings and spices. As soon as his fork hits his lips, he’s immediately transposed to his childhood. He traveled back to sitting at his mother’s table, filling himself with this comforting dish laced with bursting flavors and, of course, love.
For me, oatmeal brings a Ratatouille moment. When I was a young child, my dad worked a very early shift. He used to wake me up in the wee hours of the morning and welcome me to the table with a steamy bowl of oatmeal. I never knew or cared about what time it was, I only knew that it was dark outside and that I was going to be surrounded by a dish of warmth. To this day, when I’m stressed or I’m just in the mood for a hug from my plate, I know I can count on the comfort of this guilt-free food that somehow feels indulgent.
Breakfast With Benefits
Since October 29 is National Oatmeal Day, it’s a good time to point out that if you’re not eating oatmeal, here’s why you oat-to:
- Oats contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fibers form a viscous gel that helps to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood glucose levels. The insoluble fiber in oats helps provide a “moving” experience by curtailing constipation and improving intestinal health. What a delicious way to make your heart and colon smile.
- Oats make an easy, balanced breakfast. One cup of cooked oatmeal contains about 150 calories, four grams of fiber (about half soluble and half insoluble), and six grams of protein. To boost protein further, my favorite way to eat oatmeal is with a swirl of almond butter nestled within. This powerful combo will keep you away from that mid-morning visit to the vending machine.
- Oats provide important minerals. Nutrient-rich oatmeal contains thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iron.
- Oats are naturally gluten-free, but check with manufacturers to ensure that their products are not made using the same equipment as other potentially contaminating grains. (Always purchase gluten-free products from reputable companies and read food labels carefully.)
- Oats could help you control your weight by keeping you feeling fuller longer. Sadly, carbs are often shunned and feared by those looking to drop a few pounds, yet choosing whole grains could squash hunger and simultaneously provide that pleasant “ahhhh” feeling carb-lovers crave. But, as with any other food, be mindful of portion sizes.
Foods that bring back comforting memories are precious and should be savored slowly. But proceed with caution when it comes to what I call “Ratatouille impersonators.” Those are foods that remind you of a past experience, but taste nothing like the original dish. For example, let’s say you noticed an apple strudel in a box on the supermarket shelf and it made you remember the way your grandmother baked this recipe. If you purchased it, tasted it, and it didn’t taste like grandma’s … then hopefully, you ditched it! These impostors usually come with a side of angst, leading to discomfort instead of comfort.
What food gives you a “Ratatouille moment?” Tell me on Twitter @eatsmartbd
Energize your exercise routine by choosing the right preworkout foods. Whether you’re an early-bird exerciser, a midday mover, or a night owl, here’s how to fuel your engine.
Whether you’re heading out for a morning jog or going to a midday spin class, knowing what to eat before your workout can make or break your exercise routine. Preworkout foods should be high enough in calories to sustain the intensity of your workout, but the meal shouldn’t be large enough to slow you down, says Franci Cohen, a personal trainer, certified nutritionist, and exercise physiologist in Brooklyn, New York. “Fuel your body; don’t drag it down,” she advises.
According to Cohen, the perfect meal before exercise should be low in fat, moderate in easily digested carbohydrates and protein, and low in fiber, and it should contain some water. Here’s why this combination works: Carbs are stored in the liver and muscle for energy use, and protein (amino acids) is the building material of muscles and is needed to keep your red blood cells healthy. Those cells carry oxygen to your working muscles, Cohen explains. Water is essential to replenish the electrolytes and fluids lost when you sweat during exercise.
Of course, the best thing for you to eat (and the best time to eat it) also depends on the intensity of your workout. Marathon runners often have a big pasta meal the night before a race. The reason is simple, says Cohen. Carbs are broken down and stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver, but this process takes time — digesting a big meal can take from three to five hours. “While we sleep, the body undergoes this digestion,” Cohen says. “By the time we wake up, the storage is complete — we’re all set and fully fueled for the big race!”
But you don’t have to run marathons to be mindful of what you eat and when you choose to exercise.
Foods for Morning Workouts
If you’re up at first light and like to run with the roosters, should you eat something beforehand or head out on an empty stomach? “There’s conflicting data on the subject,” says Cohen. “One school of thought maintains that ‘fasting aerobics’ (exercising at 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate without eating) is best. It’s thought that your body will burn stored fat because it can’t burn your breakfast.”
In fact, a small study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that exercise before breakfast gives you an advantage. Ten overweight, sedentary men took part, and each underwent three trials: eating breakfast and not exercising, walking briskly for an hour before breakfast, and doing the same workout after breakfast. The researchers found that exercising before eating resulted in a larger fat loss and lower levels of fat in the blood than after-breakfast exercise. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that before or after meals, exercising was better than skipping workouts altogether.
The opposing school of thought maintains that if you eat first, your body will have more energy, so you’ll be able to work harder and thereby get a bigger payoff from your workout. “Both schools of thought have been substantiated through well-designed clinical trials, so the bottom line is, It’s totally up to you,” Cohen says. If you choose to eat beforehand, think of it more as a snack than a meal. Cohen suggests a handful of whole grain cereal, a glass of skim milk, and a few raw almonds — just enough to get you fueled and on your way.
If you do opt to eat, keep the timing in mind as well. Generally, feeding your body a combination of carbs and protein one to three hours before exercise is ideal, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you plan on grabbing a light breakfast and rushing off to the gym, your body will not have sufficient time to digest your food before exercising,” says Cohen. This can lead to cramping and other intestinal distress. If you’re tight on time, Cohen advises that you stick with simple carbs, which are broken down easily (in the small intestine), instead of proteins and fats, which take longer to break down and are digested in the stomach.
Foods for Midday Movers
If you’re motivated to exercise in the middle of the day, Cohen says you need a super lunch to get you through your workout and to prevent a three o’clock slump. That’s when blood sugar dips and you find yourself struggling to make it to five. “You want a lunch that will keep you happy, energized, and smiling straight through until dinnertime,” she says. She suggests an oldie but goodie: ants on a log. Spread some almond butter or low-fat peanut butter into a few celery sticks. Top with a row of raisins. Throw a hard-boiled egg onto the plate, says Cohen, and you’ve got a combination that “provides slow-release energy, enabling you to power through your workout from start to finish.”
Foods for Evening Exercise
“If you’ve made it through the day and still have the energy to work out, then hats off to you,” says Cohen. In the evening, your circadian rhythm is already preparing the body for sleep. Sleep hormones are kicking in, and energizing hormones are being suppressed, so you’ll need a boost to jump-start a workout. “My top pick is green apples,” says Cohen. They provide a modest amount of sugar and valuable pectin fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. That means you’ll avoid blood sugar peaks and crashes. “Add a few almonds or a glass of skim milk,” Cohen suggests, “for more protein.”
Whether you work out in the morning, at noon, or at night, tired muscles need to be refueled afterward. A combination of carbs and protein eaten within about 20 minutes of exercise will do the job best. Reach for these satisfying suggestions from Cohen to fuel your body and prepare it for your next workout:
- Greek yogurt with natural granola and fresh strawberries
- Whole-grain cereal with skim or low-fat milk
- Fresh turkey breast on a multigrain rice cake with some leafy greens and tomato
- A smoothie made with almond milk or skim milk and lots of fresh fruit
- An egg-white omelet with spinach and mushrooms and a slice of whole-grain toast on the side
Choosing smart workout foods will leave you feeling energized rather than running on empty, both during and after your fitness sessions.
Last Updated: 1/1/2015
Published Oct 10, 2014
Sweet but with a lemony finish. Crisp, tangy to the point of tartness. Spicy and fragrant. No, we’re not discussing the merits of fine wines. We’re talking apples!
October is National Apple Month, the time to celebrate the glory of the fruit, as the nation has been doing since 1904 when National Apple Week was born. In 1996, October became National Apple Month.
Domesticated some four thousand years ago in the fruity forests of what is now Kazakhstan, apples became a part of the human diet a long time ago. With flavors shaped by their respective climates — the shorter the growing season the tarter the fruit — apples have been grown across the United States for centuries. But not until the last few decades, starting in the 1980s, have apple breeders offered such a variety and explosion of flavors: Fuji, Gala, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, SweeTango, and many more. Remember when there were only a few like Red Delicious or Golden Delicious or McIntosh to be found in grocery stores?
But the history and diversity of apples is not the only thing to celebrate. Apples also can be credited with delivering an amazing number of health benefits, such as:
1. Fighting bad breath. Apples contain pectin, which helps control food odors. Pectin also promotes saliva, which cleanses breath.
2. Preventing asthma attacks. Asthma sufferers often have low levels of antioxidants. Apples are high in vitamin C and flavonoids (beneficial, water-soluble plant pigments). Both are antioxidant. One study found that vitamin C supplements helped protect against exercise-induced asthma.
3. Reducing the risk of stroke. A study involving 9,208 men and women showed that those who ate the most apples over a 28-year period had the lowest risk for stroke. Researchers concluded that the results suggest the intake of apples is related to a decreased risk of thrombotic stroke.
4. Preventing constipation. Fresh apples are high in fiber, which adds bulk to the stool. Apples contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, or roughage.
5. Combating fatigue. The high vitamin C and antioxidant content in apples counter the free radicals leading to oxidative stress, which has been linked to fatigue.
6. Reducing the risk of diabetes. The phytonutrients (beneficial substances found in various plants) in apples help regulate blood sugar.These compounds help prevent spikes in blood sugar in a variety of ways: by inhibiting enzymes involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates into simple sugars; by stimulating pancreatic cells to produce insulin; by decreasing the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
Compared to other commonly consumed fruits in the U.S, these nutritional powerhouses ranked second for highest antioxidant activity. However, they ranked highest in the proportion of free phenolic compounds—substances not bound to other compounds in the fruit and thus more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. So stock up on a good supply of apples for this season. And don’t cut off the peels. They contain much of apples’ fiber and antioxidant power.
That’s right…$1! This year we decided to get involved in on the Black Friday deals so we came up with one of our own. This Friday November 28th from 11 am to 1 pm ONLY, if you sign up for a Mega Fitness 24/7 gym membership your first month is only $1 and we will waive all sign ups fees. This is a total savings of $51! Stop by Mega Fitness 24/7 to cash in on this one-time offer.
Ashley Hoffmann has one of the best physiques in the biz. Here are 5 of her favorite arm-building tips you can use in your workouts or in Ashley’s own arm workout blitz!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a gal: defined, shapely arms look good. While compound exercises should be the staple of any resistance training routine, adding an effective arm workout to your usual split can add direct definition and size to your biceps and triceps.
Although you already hit your triceps during your push or chest days, and your biceps on your pull or back days, isolating your biceps and triceps once per week will further improve your complete physique—and everybody’s favorite show-off muscles.
Ashley Hoffmann, Neon athlete and all-around badass, has a set of guns that would make many guys jealous. She also happens to have some great tips, and below you’ll find one of her favorite workouts to help you get the most out of your biceps and triceps training.
Arms Advantage Tip 1 Don’t Cheat!
We’ve all seen it: the guy doing biceps curls with his hips and lower back instead of his arms. Sure, challenging yourself with big weights every now and again can be helpful, but consistently choosing weight that’s so heavy you have to swing it isn’t going to get you much stronger.
The key to a good arms workout is keeping your elbows at your sides,” says Ashley Hoffmann. “Use only your biceps or triceps to do the exercises, not your body’s momentum to move the weight.” Whether you’re doing curls or extensions, keep your elbows pinned to the side of your body, which will stop you from using body English to move the load.
In order for your biceps and triceps to grow, you need to make sure that they’re the muscles being stressed. If you use your body to move the weight, you take away from the workload your arms could be doing, which could mean less change in the target muscle group.
Arms Advantage Tip 2 Squeeze At The Top
One key to building lean mass is keeping your muscles under tension. The best way to do this is by increasing the length of each rep by pausing for some extra squeeze at the top of the movement. “When I do biceps and triceps exercises, I try to act like I’m flexing,” says Ashley. “That way I know I am really targeting the muscles.”
Yes, your muscles will be working throughout any exercise, but extending the time that your muscle is in its peak contraction can really increase its size. That squeeze can increase the number of muscle fibers you activate. The more muscle fibers involved in your lifts, the bigger your muscles can get.
Arms Advantage Tip 3: Go To Failure (Or Past It)
Many of us know that the best rep scheme for hypertrophy (muscle-building) is around 8-12 reps. However, your body will eventually adapt to the routine if you do the same thing over and over again. So, if you’ve been curling 30-pound dumbbells for 3 sets of 10 for the last three months and haven’t seen any changes, your program needs some help.
Start by bumping up the weight. If you start to fail sooner than you’d like, grab a buddy and have him or her help you on those last few reps. You can also try using bigger weights for fewer reps early in your workout, and then progress to lighter weights for more reps as you fatigue. Try finishing your last set with a dropset or negative reps to deliver better results—and an enormous pump!
The point of pushing your muscles past failure is twofold: most importantly, it helps your muscles adapt by becoming bigger and stronger, and secondly, pushing past failure means you’ll avoid those annoying plateaus.
Arms Advantage Tip 4 Use Supersets
You want a sick pump? Do supersets. Supersets are a technique which calls for you to do two exercises back-to-back without resting. One of the best ways to employ this technique is to do a triceps exercise and follow it immediately with a biceps exercise or vice versa. By using this technique, you stretch one antagonist muscle group while contracting the other, which brings more blood to the muscles and sparks new growth.
Supersets are also great because they save a lot of time. The limited rest means you get through your workout faster, leaving more time for showing off your growing guns.
Arms Advantage Tip 5 Try Single-Arm Lifts
Unilateral (single-arm) lifts can be beneficial to your arms training. Many of us are stronger on one side of our body. So, if you only use a barbell to do biceps curls, chances are that your dominant side will do more work, leaving your weaker side, well, weaker.
By focusing on one side at a time, you’ll be able to grow each arm evenly. Balanced and symmetrical muscles not only look better, but they function better so you’re less likely to get injured.
Single-arm lifts can also help you learn how to use your mind-muscle connection to better recruit and activate the right muscle fibers to do the work. Think about your triceps squeezing as you do each and every rep, concentrate on using that muscle, and only that muscle, to move the weight.