Things Are Heating Up: 12-week Prep for Las Vegas and Summer!

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m passionate and knowledgeable about fitness, nutrition, and health. As I’ve mentioned before, I got into weightlifting at the early age of 15 and spent most of my teen years and early twenties consuming every women’s health mag I could get my hands on and hitting the gym daily.

But then life happened. When you’re in college, start working a “real” job, and begin to build deeper relationships with friends and loved ones, leisurely flipping through glossy magazines and spending all your time and energy on, well, yourself kind of goes by the wayside.

And that’s not a bad thing. As we grow, our priorities change, and I, for one, am glad my life has been enriched by all these experiences that came out of becoming a little less self-absorbed (come on, aren’t most teens? J).

But now I feel I’ve hit a good stride in terms of family, friends, and career—as many women say about their 30s—and I’ve since added back a bit more self-care into the mix.

Over the years, I’ve had my fitness ups and downs (read: gained weight, lost it, gained weight, lost it…). As I wrote on here a couple of years back, grad school and a miserable desk job led to some fairly significant weight gain that took me to the my highest weight ever. And it wasn’t just about scale weight, either; I was completely out of shape, tired, depressed, in pain, and just plain miserable every day.

When I’d finally had enough, I set myself up a diet and exercise program and saw incredible results. I lost about 30 pounds, but more importantly, I gained incredible strength and definition—more than I’d ever had in my life.

Last year, I bought my first home and moved away from my gym. Needless to say, fitness and this blog haven’t been a top priority. The home buying process is a huge time suck, and you all know what a pain in the ass moving is! The good news is, though I gained a bit of “fluff” and lost some definition, I’ve maintained my overall health in the 9 month since the big transition.

Meet Luna! Our 4th (and final!) addition to the squad.

I made sure to get out in the yard and play with my dogs (btw, we have a new, unplanned addition!), my husband and I took regular walks with our four-legged friends, and, perhaps most importantly, I kept my nutrition in check (for the most part). This all happened last summer, which then led into the holidays, so, naturally, I overindulged at times, but not too badly.

But since our new home sits on a half an acre and has quite a bit of square footage for two adults and four dogs, we’ve been able to raise chickens (fresh, organic eggs, people!), install home gym equipment, and start a garden. All of these things add up to healthy, happy living.

In the past two or so months, I’ve been hitting the weights again (in our garage) and have already lost a bit of the fluff. I was beyond happy to see that I still have a lot of my muscle mass hidden under there, so getting “back into shape” hasn’t been a major ordeal.

Now I want to kick things into high-gear in preparation for summer and my trip to Vegas in late May! I’ve just started a 12-week program, which is plenty of time to see some amazing results. Compared to my journey to shape up for Maui a couple years back, I’m anticipating even better results this time around.

Why?

Getting ready for some VERY local veggies.

For one, my starting point is better—I don’t have nearly as much fat to lose and I already have a decent amount of muscle. Secondly, I’m going “all in” for this program. What do I mean? Well, I’m always about balance and don’t believe in eating 1000 measly calories a day. But I am going to be much more careful with my nutrition.

Typically, I allow myself a pretty flexible diet with a decent about of cheat meals. In general, I feel that’s a good, healthy approach. Enjoying nachos on date night is A-Okay. Getting candy at the movies on occasion is perfectly acceptable. Life is meant to be fun; food is meant to be enjoyed. Indulging feels good.

That being said, when you have serious goals, it’s time to buckle down and tighten up the rules. That’s true for anything in life, not just fitness. Starting a business? Maybe you have to skip girls’ night out. Trying to heal a relationship? Perhaps you’ll want to cut back on your TV time and put more energy into connecting with your loved one. You get the idea.

Now I want to get even more cut and lean than I’ve ever been, so I’ll need to make a few sacrifices (nachos being one of them!). Here’s the thing, though: this isn’t forever. I truly believe in balance and the “everything in moderation” approach for the long haul. Life is too short to deny yourself a regular glass of wine or a big stack of pancakes every now and again. But buckling down and getting stricter with your diet and exercise for short stints is a great way to make serious progress toward your goals.

I like to think about living a fit, healthy lifestyle as consistency and balance with occasional waves of going hardcore. This is relevant if you are striving to lose additional fat or take your body to the “next level.”

For example, say you are on a fitness journey to be your healthiest you, which includes being able to eat out with friends guilt-free, have regular cheat meals, and have a life outside the gym. You live this way most of the year. But then you have a tropical vacation coming up or summer’s just around the corner and you want to get a little more definition for your bikinis and backless maxi dresses. This is when you’ll want to set a realistic timeline for reigning in your diet a bit and getting serious with your training.

Personally, I don’t think you want to go longer than 12 weeks (or about 3 months) at this rate. The thing about “going hardcore” is that it burns you out and simply isn’t sustainable long-term. So be really, really good during this time, then loosen up a bit. Make the most of these short bursts of intense diet and exercise.

The key, however, is to go back to a balanced approach. Don’t go bat-shit-crazy eating whatever the hell you want every day as a “reward.” Food is not a reward or a punishment. If you swing too far in the opposite direction after a period of leaning out, you’ll find yourself back at Square One (or worse) in no time. For me, with each wave of buckling down, I find that my body maintains an overall better look in the long run, even after I’ve added back cheat meals and occasional treats.

Also, side note: I am in no way suggesting that we MUST lean out for summer or get cut in order to wear a bathing suit. I believe that we should rock whatever the hell we want, whenever the hell we want, regardless of our shape and size. Overall, my focus is on living a happy, healthy, sustainable lifestyle, and I do believe eating nutritious foods and being active is important for health and happiness. But, it’s also okay to want a six pack or killer delts or whatever it is you covet. Just like we as a society shouldn’t shame “curvy girls” or “skinny girls,” neither should we shame girls who desire the lean, ripped aesthetic. Your goals should be entirely based on what is right for YOU.

Well, I’ve rambled enough for today. In the coming weeks, I’ll update you with my progress and share more about my workout and meal plan. Just remember: I am not this strict with my diet and exercise 365 days a year, and you shouldn’t be either. Vegas is just 81 days away (OMG) and you can bet your ass I’ll indulge in some poolside cocktails once I’m there.

How do you approach health and fitness? Do you have “rules” you follow?

Is anyone else starting their summer prep now?

Share your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

The “F” Word: We All Do It

Bodies change, but life goes on

Bodies change, but life goes on

It’s true. The nasty “F” word affects most women. Sometimes we love it; sometimes we hate it.

I’m talking about “fluctuation,” of course. What were you thinking?

For the majority of us, our weight goes up and down with the seasons, with our hormones, depending on what’s going on in our personal and professional lives, and for countless other reasons. Sometimes the difference is just five or ten pounds; other times the change is even more significant.

But here’s the thing: it’s normal. Don’t let that 5-10 pounds scare you. Don’t let it get you down and don’t let it derail you.

Right now I’ve lost some muscle (sad face) and gained some fat. Overall, I’m a bit smaller than I was just a few months back, but I have less definition. What gives? Life happened. I bought a house (stressful), moved away from my gym, got caught up in the moving and unpacking process (more stress), and didn’t have time to workout and cook as much.

I was pretty damn close to having a six pack, too (okay, it was like a 4-pack, but you know). But then poof, it was gone. Yeah, I wallowed in self-pity. For a minute. Then I realized it didn’t really matter! Here’s why:

  • I’m not about to compete nor am I a fitness model
  • My pants still fit
  • I can still climb mountains
  • I’m in good health
  • My husband still loves me
  • I’ve created healthy habits through my journey
  • This “break” is temporary
  • I’m happy
  • I enjoyed the nachos I ate on movie night and the wine I drank with my girlfriends!

The list goes on, but the point is that your body fat percentage doesn’t define you. And there’s a danger in thinking that it does. It’s easy to feel that way—I know. Especially with the slew of super fit chicks on Instagram who seem to have it all. Guess what? They don’t. That’s not a judgement on their way of life, either.

I know what it feels like to go to the gym six days a week, carefully monitor everything you eat, avoid social gatherings because you can’t eat any of the food there anyway, etc. Yes, with social media you do get to see more of what goes on “behind-the-scenes” in a fitness model’s life. But you don’t see it all. Their images are carefully crafted, no matter how “real” they appear to be.

This is why an Insta-star’s following is always so shocked and heartbroken when a ‘fit couple’ breaks up. “But you guys were SO perfect together!” “You two were so in love—I hope you can work through it!” “OMG, if they can’t make it, my relationship has no hope.” Hmm…

You don’t see it all. You don’t see the bad side of a relationship and you don’t see the extra time they put in on the stairs to burn off those cookies they ate. You don’t see them struggling to get out of bed—crusty-eyed and covered in cat hair—so they can get a jump start on meal prep and avoid cookies altogether for the next week.

I applaud those who do show you more of these kinds of struggles (there are a few), but I urge you not to fall into the Insta-trap of thinking there is some secret to a perfect body that nobody is telling you.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes your fitness idols do more throwback photos than usual? Or recycle old videos? Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, their abs aren’t on-point that week and they’re doubling down to get back on track?

Life happens. Your weight will go up and down. Once you realize and accept this, you will be much happier. Don’t let a few pounds destroy your pride in the progress you’ve made. Don’t let it derail you from striving to live a healthy lifestyle, because if you do, eventually those 5 pounds turn into 20, 30, or more. And more importantly than the pounds, you will lose the happiness you’ve found in being able to walk a little farther, climb a little higher, dance a little longer.

Regardless of your personal body goals, remember, we’re ultimately seeking happiness and contentment through balance, strength, and health of both mind and body. A six pack has no bearing on any of those things.

Dinner Idea: Tuna Patties, Sweet Potato Fries, and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Whether you’re cutting calories, trying to make healthier choices, or just looking for an easy, yummy dinner idea, this one is for YOU.

I just entered a cutting phase of my journey last week (I’ll share more on that soon), and an integral part of that is, of course, diet. I’ve been pretty consistent about staying on top of food prep, but I was out of prepped meals by last night. I was wracking my brain trying to come up with something quick and easy, yet healthy. Here’s the gem I came up with!

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It’s so easy it’s not even funny. Below, I’ve included the tuna patty recipe, along with directions for making the entire meal.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Tuna patties

  • 2 cans of tuna (I use White Albacore in water)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 TBSP rice flour
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese (optional – can reduce/exclude)
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder to taste

You can also add diced onion, garlic, and other ingredients, like celery, as desired. But this is the quick-and-dirty version.

Drain tuna and place in a mixing bowl. Add other ingredients, mix, and divide to make four patties. Spray a frying pan with oil, or brush with just a bit of olive oil, and turn to medium heat. Cook patties for about 10 minutes, flip, and cook for another 10 minutes. That’s it! They’re ready to eat.

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Sweet Potato Fries & Brussel Sprouts

  • 1 serving frozen sweet potato fries (I used Ore Ida straight cut)
  • 1 cup Brussel sprouts (about 8)
  • ½ tsp olive oil
  • Lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Halve or quarter the Brussel sprouts and place in bowl. Add olive oil, lemon, and other seasonings; mix to coat the veggies. Place them on one end of a baking sheet; on the other end, spread out your fries. Bake for 10 minutes, turn, and bake for another 10.

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Seriously, that’s all there is to this meal! If you don’t have (or don’t like!) Brussel sprouts, you can use whatever vegetable you have in your fridge (broccoli and zucchini taste great oven roasted as well). Just make sure you add a veggie, whether that’s peas, salad greens, whatever. You can also chop up a whole sweet potato and make your own fries, but like I said, this is a simple meal for those days when you’re short on time or energy and have nothing prepped.

Pro tip: if you keep staple foods like these on-hand, you’ll always be able to throw together a nutritious meal. More on this in a future post.

Nutritional information

  • 545 calories (445 without cheese)
  • 44 g protein (37 g without cheese)
  • 42 g carbs (same with or without cheese)
  • 26 g fat (17 g without cheese)

Depending on your calorie and macro needs, you can adjust the recipe. For example, you might want to reduce or exclude the cheese (it helps the patties stick together, but isn’t necessary), or replace the egg with egg whites. I rarely eat cheese; as you can see, it drastically adds to the fat and calorie content. Removing the cheese from the recipe also makes it a dairy-free dinner, which is great as I’m not big on dairy. And, as always, the entire meal is gluten-free.

Would you try this? What are some of your go-to meals when you need something quick and nutritious? Share in the comments!

Eat up!

My Supplement Stack (I’m not a nutritionist!)

Supplements

Love opening my order from Bodybuilding.com!

Before I go into specifics, I want to point out my headline…in case you missed it. ^^^ I’m not—I repeat—I am not a nutritionist. The supplements I take are based on my personal activities, goals, and other factors, like age, gender, and geography. I did not see a nutritionist or coach to build my stack; everything I take I selected from my own research (and hours of it, I might add). I suggest you do the same. Now that we’ve cleared that up…

Here’s a bit about me:

  • 31-year-old female
  • 136 pounds
  • Work out 6 times a week (15-20 HIIT cardio + 45 minutes of weightlifting)
  • Hike/outdoor activities ~weekly
  • Live in the Seattle area (yes, this matters – we don’t get a lot of sun)
  • Current goals include: fat loss, muscle maintenance, energy, overall immune health

Vitamins

I’ve had trouble with vitamins in the past. No matter what I did, I had terrible heartburn after taking them. I would take them with food, chase ‘em with a warm drink, consume lots of water…on and on. Nothing helped. Finally, I read that some people take them at night for the same reason, so I started popping my vitamins before bed and never looked back. Here’s what I take:

  • Multivitamin for women
  • Vitamin C with rosehips (immune system, connective tissues)
  • Time-released B-Complex with folic acid and biotin (energy – helps convert food to fuel)
  • Vitamin D3 (due to Seattle’s lack of sun – see, told you geography matters!)
  • Cod Liver Oil (anti-inflammatory, skin health, brain health, depression)

Pre-workout

IMG_0527I drink my protein shake (25 grams of protein) and take 2100 mg of creatine an hour before my workout, followed by my pre-workout drink with 5.75 grams of added branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) about 30-45 minutes prior to working out. And yes, I have to pee like crazy as soon as I get to the gym!

  • Labrada Lean Body for Her (muscle growth and healing)
  • Optimum Nutrition unflavored BCAAs (protects muscles against catabolism)
  • Prime Nutrition Max HP (energy/endurance/strength/pump/fat burner)
  • MET-Rx Creatine (increases muscle strength/size and improves recovery)

Post-workout

Of course, I drink lots of water all day, throughout my workout, and following the gym. Gotta stay hydrated! I also make sure to have some carbs and protein, along with another dose of creatine (2100 mg). Splitting your creatine pre- and post-workout is probably bro science, but whatevs, it’s what I do.

Other

To help with digestion, I take probiotics with meals (when I remember!) because I’ve always struggled with stomach problems (i.e., celiac, IBS).

I’m a research nerd, so I feel that this stack is appropriate for my current situation and personal profile—and it’s been serving me well. I’ve added things over time since I first started my journey in October of 2014, and other things I’ve changed. I don’t like artificial sweeteners (and they don’t like me!), which is why I chose the above supps. Max HP has stevia, which I’d prefer it didn’t, but it’s the best thing I’ve found so far, and at least it doesn’t have Splenda or aspartame. Green tea is a great natural pre-workout with thermogenic fat burning properties, but unfortunately, it gave me massive migraine headaches, so that’s a no-go.

FullSizeRender (2)There are a ton of options out there and it can be confusing and overwhelming. I know. My recommendation is that you start with what you feel your biggest need is (Not getting enough protein? Find a shake you like. Need better endurance during your workout? Choose a pre-workout with great reviews.). And DO YOUR RESEARCH. Additionally, whenever you can get your nutrients from your diet, do it! I try to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods daily in an attempt to meet my needs through diet alone, but I choose to supplement in case there are gaps. If you’re eating a balanced diet (you are, right? RIGHT??), you shouldn’t have to worry about micronutrients like zinc and iron, for example.

And finally, my obligatory gym rat statement: yes, I think supplements are a great tool to help you reach your goals. But more important than any supplement is whether you PUT IN WORK and EAT RIGHT. All the supplements in the world will not help you if your fitness and nutrition aren’t on-point.

Okay, I’ve shown you mine, will you show me yours? What supplements do you take?

 

Note: I have no affiliations with any of the above-mentioned brands and have never received payment or compensation of any kind for including them in this post. They don’t even know I exist. But hey, if ya’ll are listening…my stock is running low :-p

Nutritious & Delicious Buffalo Chicken Salad

IMG_0332When it comes to salads, I need lots of flavor, but I’m not a huge fan of dressings (condiments in general, actually. Goopiness – blech). That means whatever goodies I put on my salad need to be flavor-rich, yet nutritious. For example, if I’m making a sweet salad, I like adding things like berries, nuts, and pumpkin seeds.

As I move into a (short) cutting phase in my journey, I’ve turned to big salads with lean protein for dinner most nights. A couple of nights ago, I was craving a savory salad—preferably something with warm toppings since it’s cold and rainy in the Pacific Northwest right now! I also love spicy food, so I decided to try making my own buffalo chicken for my bed of greens.

Here’s what went into my salad:

  • About 3 cups of tender baby spinach and romaine with radicchio
  • ¼ of medium avocado
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved (~10)
  • 8 oz. chicken breast (I was behind on protein, but 4 ounces is about right)
  • Frank’s Red Hot Wing Sauce (enough to coat chicken)
  • 1/4 TBS olive oil
  • 2 TBS Greek yogurt ranch dressing (I dip, and didn’t use the full serving)
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Image credit: T-Nation, www.t-nation.com

Since I’m sure you know how to make a salad (pile veggies on a dish!), I’ll jump right into how I made the Buffalo chicken. After washing and trimming the chicken breast, slice as desired. Pro tip: the smaller you cut the pieces, the more flavor you’ll get. Coat chicken pieces with olive oil, followed by Frank’s sauce. You can marinate the chicken overnight or for a couple of hours for even more flavor, but you’ll get plenty of flavor without marinating as well. Place chicken pieces on a cookie sheet and cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until cooked thoroughly. That’s it! Remove from oven and place on top of your salad.

Of course, you can add other veggies as desired, and you can mix in your dressing or eat it on the side, whatever you prefer. I used Bolthouse Farms brand dressing (pictured); it was the first time I’d ever tried it, and I must say, I approve! But your choice of healthy dressing will do. For my exact salad listed above, I’ve provided the calorie and macro information below.

Nutritional content:

  • 460 calories
  • 55 grams protein
  • 11 g carbs
  • 19 g fat

If you’re not cutting carbs, this is still a yummy, hearty option for lunch or dinner. Just pair it with a whole grain roll or incorporate a complex carb like quinoa.

I’ll write a post soon about my decision to start cutting, my approach, and how it’s going so far. Until then, try this salad and let me know what you think!

Eat up!