Are Boring Meals Keeping You Up At Night?

Eaten everyday, this nutritious one-dish-dinner isn't exactly healthy.
Eaten everyday, this nutritious one-dish-dinner isn’t exactly healthy.

I can get pretty lazy when it comes to making dinner. My go-to meal is a goulash of ground beef (pasture-raised, organic when possible), tomato sauce (Newman’s Own is nice), kale (chop and toss into the sauce to cook), and brown rice pasta. It only takes 20 minutes to throw it together, and there are always leftovers for lunch, so I make it at least once a week if not more often. As nutritious as this dish is (kale is Mother’s Nature’s multi-vitamin!), dining on it daily could be a big no-no. According to a recent study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, eating the same meal day in and day out can have a negative effect on your sleep.

Today’s breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach, sliced apples, and oranges. (I like to sneak veggies into eggs for an extra jolt of vitamins.)
Today’s breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach, sliced apples, and oranges. (I like to sneak veggies into eggs for an extra jolt of vitamins.)

In a nutshell, researchers discovered variety is the spice and the sleeping pill of life. They noted that people who eat the widest assortment of foods have the healthiest sleep patterns, logging between seven and eight hours of rest each night. And those who are nutritionally deficient—lacking in iron, zinc, and selenium, for example, get the least amount of sleep. Getting enough snooze time is extremely important for runners. Muscle tissue repairs itself when the body is at rest, allowing your legs to push harder and respond more quickly during your next workout.

Hello, variety! Baby turnips win the prize for most unusual item in this week’s Full Circle box.
Hello, variety! Baby turnips win the prize for most unusual item in this week’s Full Circle box.

In an effort to add more excitement to my meals, I’ve signed up for Full Circle, a farm-to-table food delivery service in the Bay Area. Every Tuesday morning a box of locally grown, organic fruits and veggies magically appears on my doorstep. I have no idea what will be inside each week, forcing me to roll with the punches. Now, I can create meals that are not only nutritious, but offer a bigger variety of vitamins and minerals to keep me sleeping (and running!) more soundly.

Do you eat a wide variety of healthy foods? How do you sneak more nutrients into your diet? 

It’s National Peanut Butter Lovers’ Day!

I heart peanut butter on apples, in oatmeal, and with dark chocolate!
I heart peanut butter on apples, in oatmeal, and with dark chocolate!

A quick note to spread the love for my favorite, um, spread…

Peanut butter is loaded with protein (about 8 grams per serving), which is essential for muscle growth and repair. And the fat found in peanuts is monounsaturated—the heart-healthy kind that has been shown to lower bad cholesterol. It’s also a great source of niacin, folic acid, and vitamin E. Hello, post-run recovery super food!

What’s your favorite way to eat peanut butter?

Greens Are Still Good For You—Just Wash Them First

Take a peek at my produce.
Take a peek at my produce.

There’s a lot of buzz in the health world about a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that finds produce, including leafy vegetables, responsible for making more than 4 million people sick each year. Nutritionists everywhere are concerned this kind of news will scare you away from putting fruits and veggies on your plate.

Listeria, salmonella, norovirus, and e. coli, are all pathogens that can wreak havoc on your digestive track—causing stomach pains, vomiting, gas, diarrhea, and in really severe cases death. They’re worthy of being feared, and they’ve all been found on your favorite fresh foods, including cantaloupe, spinach, and peanuts.

One snapshot inside my refrigerator proves those nutritionists don’t have to worry about me. Still, the thought of spending the night in the bathroom after enjoying a big salad isn’t exactly appealing. So you can imagine my elation upon discovering a super-secret, super-easy way to cut the risk of food-borne illness: Wash everything before it goes into your mouth.

It’s really that simple. Soap up your own hands first. Then take a few minutes to soak and rinse your veggies in cool water. (Even the “pre-washed” stuff!) Wipe them down with a clean cloth and you’re good to go. Now, who wants kale for dinner?

Are you afraid veggies will make you sick? You’re planning to eat them anyway, right?

Trick or Treat: Halloween Candy For Sidelined Runners

Halloween haul
Halloween haul
My dream Halloween haul: organic peanut butter and dark chocolate. The neighbors probably won’t be handing these out tomorrow night. Boo!

I’ve never been too worried about what I put in my mouth. As a runner I’ve got the luxury of burning off those not-so-healthy foods on my next long run. But now that I can’t get in my typical 30 to 35 miles per week, I’m starting to worry about all the little extras that somehow make their way into my diet. And I just don’t trust my willpower with all the Halloween candy hanging around. Here’s what I’m eating and skipping this week: 
 
Treat! Dark Chocolate Recent research from The Cochrane Library suggests dark chocolate and cocoa may lower blood pressure and could potentially decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Yum! It’s still full of sugar though, so I’m sticking to an ounce and really savoring each bite. 
 
Trick. Peanut Butter Cups I love everything and anything that contains peanut butter. (Seriously, I think Elvis was on to something with those peanut butter and bacon sandwiches…) Sadly though, the typical peanut butter cup is loaded with fat, sugar, and artificial ingredients. For a similar taste, I’ll sprinkle a few dark chocolate chips on a teaspoonful of all-natural peanut butter. 
 
Treat! Tootsie Pops These suckers are only 60 calories, and, since they take a while to eat (unless you happen to be a dumb owl who bites after three licks), they’re more satisfying than one of those fun-size candy bars. The chocolate-y center offers no nutritional value, but in moderation I think this is still a good pick. 
 
Trick. Candy Corn Sugar, sugar, and more sugar make up the ingredients list on this popular seasonal treat. A fistful (about 20 pieces) contains 150 calories—not a terrible number for a snack, but the resulting blood sugar spike will only lead to you crashing and feeling tired in a couple hours. I won’t be making a stop at the candy dish with this offering.  
 
Treat! Raisins Kids hate finding “nature’s candy” in their stash (Can you blame them? This is a lunchbox staple, not a Halloween treat!). Still, this humble dried grape can subdue a sweet tooth in seconds. And when my legs are able to log distance again, I’ll be popping them instead of run candy—a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that raisins are as effective as sports beans for fueling workouts. Raisins are a natural source of carbohydrates, and they cost less, too! 

Which Halloween treats are your favorites?  Who’s getting dressed up?

GU’s Peanut Butter is the Best Thing Since Peanut Butter!

Left behind after a long run: Sneakers, sweaty clothes and an empty GU Peanut Butter packet.

Seriously, the new (to me) Peanut Butter flavored GU is delicious. I discovered it at a mini-race expo in Tupper Lake, NY, and since then I’ve been looking forward to carrying it with me on all of my long runs. It tastes almost as good as the stuff it’s trying to pretend to be. Halfway through a 12-miler, when I start feeling tired and slow, I pop some of this peanut buttery goodness into my mouth and I’m instantly a new runner.

I love peanut butter so much, that if I could suck down a glob of the real stuff I would. But, sadly, it’s not the right kind of fuel to take in during a run.

When you run for more than 60 minutes (90 minutes if your body happens to have an extra efficient storage system), your body uses up the glycogen stored in its muscles and then goes for the sugar in your circulatory system and liver to continue to power your legs. When that fuel source runs out, your muscles become slow to respond and have the potential to cramp. GU and other sports gels and drinks are specially formulated to offer quick burning carbs (sugars) and electrolytes that hit your bloodstream minutes after reaching your tummy.

Peanut butter has carbs, but it’s also high in protein, making it slow to digest—so the energy you get from it doesn’t reach your legs in time for it to be used in that workout. Which means during a long run, GU’s Peanut Butter is better than actual peanut butter. (I know, I can’t believe I just said that either. Peanut butter, I love you! I do!)

I’m not going to start spreading this stuff on toast, but it just might edge out GU’s Chocolate Outrage for the top spot in my fuel favorites.

Which gels are your favorites? Have you tried GU’s new (to me) Peanut Butter flavor?

Vitamins That Aren’t Too Hard To Swallow

I’m pretty lazy when it comes to taking vitamins. In fact, all five of the different bottles of tablets sitting on my kitchen counter are more than 2/3 full, and all of them are expired. I simply forget to take them—something I was reprimanded for the other day when I met Steven Joyal, M.D., vice president of scientific and medical affairs of Life Extension, a health and dietary supplement company. “It’s virtually impossible to get all the essential nutrients you need from foods alone, so you should at least be taking a daily multivitamin,” he says. I sat there nodding politely, mentally kicking myself for wasting money on those past-dated pills.

Vitamins and minerals help our bodies work as efficiently as possible, but they’re especially important for athletes because we put more than just the normal wear and tear on ourselves. As runners, we’re constantly subjected to cancer-causing free radicals when we run outside—from the sun, pollution, and other sources. Plus, our activity causes internal stress (the break down and repair of muscle tissue, for example). Which means loading up on antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies and popping a daily multivitamin are key to running farther, faster, and for life.

Additional caplets to consider:

  • Magnesium Sweat a lot? You could be low on this mineral, which escapes the body through perspiration. Magnesium is responsible for maintaining muscle and nerve function, keeping your heart rate steady, and fortifying bones.
  • Calcium If you want to reduce your risk of stress fractures, this one’s for you. Three servings of dairy a day should put enough calcium in your diet, but the body often utilizes it more effectively when it’s taken as a supplement paired with magnesium and other minerals.
  • Vitamin D Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, making it vital for strong bones. Your body naturally makes it when it’s exposed to UV light. But when days become short on sunlight (hello, winter), a supplement can fill the gaps.
  • Fish Oil Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, like salmon and sardines, reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. And if you’re not a fan of seafood, you’re missing out. Dr. Joyal says, “I take fish oil on days I won’t be eating fish.”

I bought a new set of vitamins and Dr. Joyal gave me this handy-dandy sorter to help me remember to take them everyday. (Yes, Gramma, it’s just like yours!) This morning I successfully swallowed all of my pills. My fingers are crossed.

Are you good about popping pills? How many vitamins do you take daily? 

Are Runners Bland?

I had Indian food for dinner with one of my favorite running buddies yesterday. As we debated which dishes to get, I noticed that we were both gravitating towards the milder options. Neither of us wanted a super spicy meal to mess with our tummies and make the next day’s run unpleasant. It made me think about the foods I eat all the time: Oatmeal, bananas, turkey sandwiches. Pretty boring stuff.

Last night’s feast was the most exciting meal I’ve eaten in a while. But no proper curry fan alive will tell you chicken tikka masala is adventurous.

I find it funny that I’m willing to take on a marathon, sign up for trail races, and do two workouts a day without apprehension, but the thought of eating something that might upset my stomach brings me to my knees. More evidence that the hardcore persona I want to project to the world doesn’t match up with my insides.

What did you have for dinner last night? Do you sacrifice spices to keep your workouts on track too?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

I Feel So Empty Inside

This week has been an easy one for me when it comes to running. The mileage is low and I’m not stressing out about hitting times, I’m just making sure my legs feel good. But even though I’m not burning as many calories as I usually do, I’m craving them like a maniac.

Seriously, I’ve been hungrier than ever this week. It’s like my stomach just won’t feel full. And I’m definitely giving in to the urges. Yesterday at my desk I snacked on a banana, peanut butter cookies, butter toffee almonds, string cheese, and applesauce—and that was on top of lunch (ham, cheese, sprouts, and cucumbers on a whole wheat roll), second breakfast (grapes and a croissant), and breakfast (oatmeal with frozen peaches). I had dinner with a friend last night and I was so hungry by the time I got there, I thought I was going to gnaw my arm off.

Scientists have found that exercise increases the production of a protein that curbs appetite, so it makes sense that my body would be craving more food now that I’m not running as much. But it’s gotten so bad I’m afraid to open the work fridge for fear that I might eat someone else’s leftovers. (Whoever brought in the humus and grilled chicken, consider yourself warned.)

Countdown to the Boston Marathon: 5 days!

Is anyone else hungry right now? Do you feel the urge to eat more when you’re exercising less, too?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

I Have A Confession To Make: I’ve Been Juicing

And I think it’s helping me run faster. It started innocently enough when I met my friend Andy at Blue Dog Café in NYC last week. I walked into the sandwich and smoothie shop and he handed me a bottle of fresh pressed juice. Andy knew I had been under the weather, and I’m sure he just wanted to help. Little did he know I was addicted at first sip.

The juice tickled my taste buds with apple, lemon, cayenne pepper, double ginger and something they call “immunity elixir,” and my sinuses were instantly open! Before leaving the café, I loaded up on Knight In Armor and two other blends: All Greens Plus (a mix of cucumber, celery, parsley, romaine, spinach, kale, apple, lemon, and ginger that’s surprisingly tastier than you’d think it would be) and Rejuvinator (a combo of carrot, beet, coco water, and lemon that leaves me feeling energized). After drinking them between meals, I kicked my cold and had some really great workouts—the mile repeats last Thursday and a really strong 10K race in Central Park yesterday. And now I’m jonesing for more juice.

Countdown to the Boston Marathon: 7 days!

Have you ever tried drinking your veggies? Do you have a juicer at home? What helps you feel revved up?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

Eating On The Run: 3 Snacks That Can Help You Reach The Finish Line

In her new book Running For Women, Kara Goucher talks a lot about, well, running. (Who better to do that than a pro-runner gunning to win the Boston Marathon?) She also covers nutrition. My favorite message from her chapter on food: “Eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full.” That’s always been my mantra when dining, but what about when you’re on the run?

If you’re just heading out for an easy one, you don’t need to worry about eating or drinking anything fancy—Kara reports plain old water is perfect. But for anything over an hour, it’s a good idea to replenish your carbohydrate levels during your pavement pounding session. You can do this with sports drinks, like Gatorade, or by sipping water and eating specially formulated gels, gummies, or chews. (I like to refer to this stuff as “run candy”—you can find a colorful assortment of it at almost any sneaker store.) They all work, but it’s important to find one that your stomach tolerates and that you can maneuver easily from your pocket to your mouth. It’s also smart to figure out which one works for you before race day (your tummy will thank you!). Here’s what I’ve been experimenting with:

1. Clif  Shot Roks Protein Bites I have a tough time chewing while I’m on the move—I can’t even walk and chew gum without biting the inside of my mouth. So when I bring these with me, I have to stop to snack. They’re actually designed to be a post-run recovery food, but I like eating a couple in the middle of my runs. (Maybe because I let myself take a break.) They’re delicious and really keep my energy up.

2. Nutrilite Endurance Cubes I discovered these during this season’s marathon training after reading about them on Kara’s blog (clearly, I like her writing). Kara uses them to supplement sports drinks when she does her longer runs. Because I have a chewing issue, I sort of let the cubes melt in my mouth. It’s fun to use them to count down the miles—I’ll pop one every 10 to 15 minutes and when the pack’s empty my run is done.

3. GU Energy Gel I’ve been downing this stuff since high school, so it’s almost like bringing a faithful friend along with me when I go out for long runs. I like GU for three reasons: it’s the right size for that little pocket inside your running shorts, it always gives me a boost when I’m starting to feel sluggish, and it comes in yummy flavors. (The chocolate mint tastes like an Andes candy!)

Countdown to the Boston Marathon: 12 days!

Do you snack on the run? What’s your favorite run candy?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.