Fitness Resources


Is Fat the New Nutrition Darling?

Fit Life

July 24, 2017

Is dietary fat a friend or foe? Currently, dietary fat is experiencing a comeback in popularity. From weight loss to improved mental clarity, many health professionals are touting the purported benefits of a high-fat diet. Which raises the question: Should you buy into the hype and hop on the high-fat bandwagon or is moderation the way to go?

In the 1980s and ‘90s, fat was the enemy and we were told to follow a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet if we wanted to prevent heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, obesity, diabetes and heart disease have all been on the rise over the past 30-plus years, and we now know that those nutrition recommendations were wrong. Further research has determined that sugar and refined carbohydrates are the more likely culprits when it comes to weight gain and poor health, because they cause chronically elevated insulin, which is a fat-storage hormone.

Fat is one of your body’s most basic building blocks. Your body is 15-30% fat and your brain is 60-70% fat. In fact, adequate consumption of the right kinds of fat is vital for your brain to properly function. In addition, fat is essential for the production of cell walls, the myelin sheaths that coat each nerve, blood-sugar stabilization, hormone production, and hunger and craving control. There have been a number of recent studies comparing high-fat/low-carbohydrate (HFLC) diets to low-fat/high-carbohydrate diets (LFHC) and the evidence suggests that the HFLC diets are better for weight loss and improvements in markers for inflammation, heart disease and blood sugar.

But not all fats are created equally. The good fats can help you become lean, healthy and full of energy, whereas the bad fats will increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and dementia.


The healthiest fats are the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), omega-3s and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MUFAs are found in almonds, walnuts, avocados and olives (and olive oil) and raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease. When choosing olive oil, choose extra-virgin varieties and make sure to purchase those that are bottled in dark glass and have a recent “harvest” date.

Omega-3s are essential fats and must be consumed because the body does not make them. The omega-3s include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While EPA is responsible for heart health, DHA is most active in the brain tissue, improving communication between nerves. These two are the most important forms of omega-3s to consume. ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, but at a very low rate. It is still important to consume ALA, but when you are looking to increase your intake of omega-3s, your focus should be on EPA and DHA.

The best sources of omega-3s come from fatty fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, Pacific halibut, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel and trout. Plant sources of omega-3s include seaweed, walnuts, flax and chia seeds.

MCTs function very differently from the longer-chain fatty acids. These fats have a carbon backbone of 8 or 10 carbons and are easily digested and used quickly for energy. Diets rich in MCTs are associated with better brain and cardiovascular health. Coconut oil (virgin, organic) is about 60% MCT. Other sources of MCTs are pure MCT oil, which is usually a combination of C8, 10 and 12 (a long-chain fat that acts like a medium-chain fat).


Trans fats and most omega-6 fats top the list of fats that are bad for your health and cause inflammation.

Trans fats are produced when a liquid fat, such as vegetable oil, is turned into a solid (margarine, shortening). These fats increase inflammation in the body and cause the body to produce more of the small, sticky (bad) low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles that can increase your risk of heart disease. These fats are found in commercially prepared baked goods and fried foods, as well as on the shelf at many supermarkets.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, vegetable blends) and are considered pro-inflammatory. A diet high in omega-6s is linked to heart disease, obesity, weight gain, thyroid and hormone imbalances, and inflammation. The typical diet has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of over 40:1, much higher than the recommended 4:1 ratio.


For many years, we were told to stay away from butter because it is high in saturated fat and would increase our risk of heart disease. A number of studies have shown this not to be true and that butter actually doesn’t have any effect on coronary heart disease or even reduced death rate from cardiovascular disease. Some nutrition experts put grass-fed butter in the healthy category, because it is a good source of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid associated with reduced inflammation, which is at the root cause of most diseases. Ghee, or clarified butter, can also be put into the good category if it comes from grass-fed cows, as it contains 25% MCTs and short-chain fatty acids. We still caution the use of dairy products from grain-fed cows, as their fat profile is much less desirable.


Fat is an essential macronutrient that plays an important role in blood-sugar regulation, hormone production, brain function and weight regulation. Choosing the right kind of fats is critical to lowering inflammation. As for how much fat to eat? Well, that’s up to you. Your best bet is to include it at every meal.

GREEN GODDESS SMOOTHIE (makes 1 serving)

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ½ avocado, peeled
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 cup baby kale
  • ½ cup frozen pineapple chunks
  • ½ organic apple
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 scoop protein powder

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add crushed ice if you prefer a thicker smoothie.

SPICED NUT AND SEED MIXTURE (makes 3 servings)

  • 1 Tbsp. avocado oil
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. pink Himalayan sea salt
  • ¼ cup raw pecan pieces
  • ¼ cup raw walnut pieces
  • ¼ raw pepitas

Mix the oil, paprika, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl. Add the pecans, walnuts and pepitas and stir to coat everything in the spices. Heat a small nonstick pan over low heat. Add the nuts and cook for 4-5minutes, shaking the pan every 45 seconds to prevent the nuts from burning. Pour into a bowl and serve.

U Rock Girl!
U Rock Girl! ContributorTiffani Bachus, R.D.N., and Erin Macdonald, R.D.N., are the co-founders of U Rock Girl!, a website designed to nourish the mind, body and spirit of women of all ages and stages of life. They have just authored the rockin’ breakfast cookbook, No Excuses! 50 Healthy Ways to ROCK Breakfast! available at

7 Great Mornings: Your Prep Guide to the Most Important Meal of the Day

Fit Life

June 30, 2017

You’ve heard it a million times, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. You can’t start your car without a little fuel in the tank, and a well-balanced breakfast can set you off on the right foot for a fabulous day.

Most people who skip breakfast cite lack of time as their primary barrier. These seven easy-to-prepare breakfast ideas can be made in a few minutes and are packed with the nutrition needed to fuel you throughout your day.

Parmesan Arugula Avocado Toast

healthy breakfast avocado toast

Avocado toast is all the rage, but you don’t have to stop topping your toast after adding this fabulous fruit. Adding a serving of vegetables and some cheese (which ups the protein content) takes this easy-to-assemble breakfast to the next level.


  • 1 handful arugula or other salad green
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 ripe avocado
  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a small bowl, mash the ripe avocado with a dash of salt and pepper.

2. Spread the mashed avocado onto toasted bread.

3. Top with arugula, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice.


Veggie Breakfast Burrito

healthy veggie breakfast burrito

Black beans bump up the fiber content and zucchini adds low-calorie bulk in this better-for-you take on a breakfast burrito.


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup sliced or shredded zucchini pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla
  • 1/4 cup black beans
  • 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Salsa, to taste


1. Spray nonstick pan with cooking spray and sauté zucchini over medium-high heat or until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove zucchini from pan.

2. Spray nonstick pan again and fry or scramble egg. Remove egg from pan.

3. Return pan to stovetop and add a whole-wheat tortilla. Top with black beans and sprinkle with cheese. Heat just until tortilla is browned on the bottom and cheese melts.

4. Add egg and zucchini (and salsa if desired) and roll up burrito.


Overnight Pumpkin Oatmeal

healthy overnight oats recipe

Steel-cut oats have a more robust flavor and tend to leave you feeling more satisfied than their quick-cooking counterparts. Preparing this breakfast dish the night before allows time for the steel-cut oats to soften, saving you valuable time in the morning.


  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened milk of your choice
  • 1 teaspoon powdered stevia (or another sweetener of choice)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg


1. Add all ingredients to a sealable container and stir together.

2. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Stir again before eating.


Vanilla Almond Apricot Smoothie

healthy apricot vanilla smoothie recipe

Smoothies are a great way to use up fruits and vegetables that may be on the verge of being overripe. Add frozen berries in place of ice cubes for a fast and friendly breakfast on the go.


  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • 2 apricots, pits removed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup ice cubes


1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until combined. Add additional milk or water to thin consistency if desired.


Piña Colada Breakfast Bowl

healthy pina colada breakfast bowl

Why not take a tropical break from your regular breakfast routine? This pineapple-based breakfast bowl tastes so good you may forget you’re going to work instead of the beach this morning. If using canned pineapple, be sure to look for the lowest-sugar variety or pineapple packed in its own juice.


  • 1/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2; medium banana
  • 1/2; cup pineapple chunks
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons granola


1. Add coconut milk, yogurt, banana, pineapple and ice cubes to a blender and process until pureed. Add additional water or milk for thinner consistency.

2. Place pureed pineapple mix in a bowl and top with granola.


Double-duty Breakfast Batter Mix

healthy whole wheat pancakes recipe

Whole-wheat pancakes and waffles SOUND great, but who has time to prep the batter? This make-ahead whole-wheat mix can be used for EITHER pancakes or waffles. Just prepare a batch of the dry mix ahead of time, and add two simple ingredients in the morning when you’re ready to go.


  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg


1. To prepare the dry mix, grind the dry ingredients (whole-wheat flour through salt) in a food processor until finely chopped, but not yet a powder.

2. Mix vegetable oil in with the dry ingredients.

3. Store dry mix in an airtight container for up to two weeks at room temperature or indefinitely in the refrigerator or freezer.

4. To make pancakes, whisk together 1 cup homemade mix, 1 cup buttermilk and 1 egg. Let batter stand for 20 minutes prior to cooking.

5. To make waffles, follow the same instructions as for pancakes, but add an extra egg and a smidge more buttermilk.


Better-for-You Eggs Benedict

healthy eggs Benedict recipe

Traditional eggs benedict contains a lot of butter, but this better-for-you version uses avocado to create a similar, creamy consistency that has an irresistible flavor profile.


  • 1/3 avocado, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Poached eggs, for serving
  • 1 English muffin, toasted, cut in half
  • 2 slices tomato


1. In a blender combine the avocado, hot water and lemon juice. With the blender on, slowly pour in the olive oil.

2. Top each half of the English muffin with a slice of tomato and a poached egg.

3. Drizzle with the avocado hollandaise sauce and top with salt and pepper.

Katie Ferraro
Katie Ferraro ContributorKatie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a consultant, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in San Diego, CA. She specializes in nutrition communications and is the author of Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing (McGraw Hill 2014). As an advocate for foods you can eat MORE of, Katie serves as a media spokesperson and writes the popular blog

“Detoxing” Requires Guts!

by Ashley Koff on May 16, 2017


Good food and hydration, plus the human body’s built-in detox brilliance, promote the optimal digestion and absorption at the core of your clients’ nutritional fitness.

Attempting to inspire better eating habits, nutrition educators have long told people, “You are what you eat,” with the notion that “being” broccoli is more compelling than “being” a double cheeseburger or a supersized beverage. Yet, as we observe the global obesity epidemic and the dietary challenges we see daily with clients, it’s clear that most of the time the idea of being broccoli isn’t motivating people to drive past the burger joint instead of through it.

What’s worse? The axiom “You are what you eat” is actually not true. You are not what you eat, but you are what you digest and absorb. The difference—between eating broccoli and your cells getting nutrients digested from broccoli—is everything when it comes to enabling better health and delivering the results clients seek from their investment in you. With optimal digestion, the body takes in food and turns it into fuel for tasks ranging from improving energy to repairing cells and tissues to identifying and removing waste products. Without optimal digestion, the body struggles to prioritize needs, perhaps passing on repair work in order to enable energy or address a crisis; in short, it works less efficiently and less effectively (Karasov & Douglas 2013).

Today, many adults nationwide experience digestive complaints or diseases (NIH 2009). Statistics reveal staggering numbers of people attempting to manage reflux, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and other symptoms, often without discussing the problems with a physician or healthcare provider. One look at the sales growth of probiotics, laxatives and popular over-the-counter digestive medications points to a nation not digesting or absorbing nutrients well (Johnson 2016).

U.S. Adults Are Digestively Distressed

A quick glance at some key stats strengthens the evidence that digestive health among Americans needs to improve.

  • Digestive diseases affect 60–70 million Americans (NIH 2009).
  • In 2004, 20% of the population was diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) (El-Serag et al. 2004).
  • In 2004, 5.9 million prescriptions were written for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and 2.1 million for ulcerative colitis (Everhart 2008).
  • In 2013, 72% of U.S. adults (men and women) said they had experienced at least one of the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms a few times a month or more: diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements, unexplained weight loss or nonspecific GI symptoms. A majority said they had lived with their symptoms for more than 6 months (AbbVie 2013).

Herein lie clues for why, as a country, we are not seeing great headway in our battle with the bulge(s). After all, if one’s digestive system is not working optimally, then it is improbable that metabolism, natural detoxification and elimination efforts are yielding optimal results. To that end, anyone seeking to shed weight, lose fat, gain lean body mass and improve performance must first focus on an assessment of his digestive health.

When Is Digestive Assessment Called For?

If a client eats well (as evidenced by your thorough review of her food journal), and is active (but not getting the body composition results you would expect from her training efforts), consider referring her to a doctor or dietitian for a digestive assessment.

You might also ask a few simple questions to get clues about her digestive health:

  1. Do you have reflux, or are you bloated after eating normal meals and snacks?
  2. Are you having difficulty going to the bathroom, or are you not going regularly?
  3. Are you relying on medications or supplements to help your digestive system work and feel better?

If the client answers yes to any of these questions (or especially to all of them), refer her to a doctor or dietitian for thorough assessment and recommendations.

A 6-Step Tune-Up for Better Digestive Health

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too! Improved digestive nutrition enables better health when you make better, not perfect, choices more often. Aiming for perfect will make you perfectly stressed, which will challenge digestion further, and as such be perfectly unhelpful and unhealthy. Here are six suggestions to help clients get optimal digestion and absorption up and running:

    1. Move more. The body’s digestive tract is a series of muscles whose ongoing movement enables better digestion. Beyond exercise, it is critical to find opportunities to move throughout the day. Additionally, doing abdominal twists (seated or lying on the floor), as well as bending in all planes of motion, can help to engage and support digestive muscle movement. Work with clients to ensure proper form and to emphasize not just twisting from the shoulders but actually moving the whole core to encourage abdominal muscle movement.
    1. Reduce (digestive) workload. The digestive system can handle a lot, but it can also get overwhelmed. By eating and drinking less at any one time, and by practicing better nutrient balance, clients can give their bodies a manageable workload that allows for efficient, effective work plus time for recovery and relaxation.
    1. Turn off digestive “DiStress.” Certain nutrients and nutrient forms can support the digestive system, reducing stress on it and allowing food to be broken down and absorbedmore efficiently. For example, cacao, nuts, seeds, grains, greens and beans supply your cells with magnesium, which turns off the body’s stress response (“fight or flight”) (Wienecke & Nolden 2016). Avocado,beans, goat’s milk kefir and cheese, raw spinach, and parsley provide glutamine, which helps repair the digestive tract lining, enabling easier and better absorption of nutrients (Rao & Samak 2012).Under stress, the body shunts attention away from digestion, which can make liquid nutrition a great temporary fix for aiding absorption.

      Nutrient-balanced liquid-nutrition recommendations include nonstarchy-vegetable-based soups with one serving of starchy vegetable, topped with hemp hearts or chopped nuts; and smoothies with one serving of fruit, nonstarchy vegetables, quality protein powder and a nut butter or other healthy fat.

    2. Build better balance. Fibers are essential to digestive health. Our bodies need both the insoluble and soluble forms, including those that function as prebiotics (food for probiotics). Bear in mind, however, that too much fiber at once can overwhelm the digestive tract, especially if it is already stressed or irritated. Balance your daily intake by splitting it up throughout the day (aim for 5–10 grams of fiber at one time, versus 20–25 g) and consuming an adequate amount of water daily (as a goal for how many ounces to consume daily, begin with half a client’s body weight in pounds, then split that number into 3–5 water breaks, as a starting point). Balance bacteria load by taking in probiotics from quality fermented foods to counter the “bad” bacteria ingested through our mouths and skin.
    1. Bite better. Chewing food more thoroughly and chewing on better-quality food give the body more of the resources it needs. Avoid the chemistry lab projects and hyperprocessed foods where nutrients are removed and only some are added back, in different forms, via fortification.
  1. Journal it. As with anything, we can’t know what’s working and what needs attention without knowing what we are consuming and how our body responds to it most often.


AbbVie. 2013. New survey reveals more than half of Americans are living with gastrointestinal symptoms and not seeking care from a doctor. AbbVie press release. Accessed Feb. 1, 2017.

El-Serag, H.B., et al. 2004. Gastroesophageal reflux among different racial groups in the United States. Gastroenterology, 126 (7), 1692–99.

Everhart, J.E. (Ed.). 2008. The Burden of Digestive Diseases in the United States Report. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH Publication 09–6433.

Fahey, J.W., & Stephenson, K.K. 1999. Cancer chemoprotective effects of cruciferous vegetables. Journal of Horticultural Science, 34 (7), 1159–63.

Johnson, C. 2016. Growth of digestive health market and popular ingredients. Natural Products Insider. Accessed Jan. 27, 2016.

Karasov, H.W., & Douglas, A.E. 2013. Comparative digestive physiology. Comprehensive Physiology, 3, 741–83.

NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2009. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication 08–6514.

Rao, R., & Samak, G. 2012. Role of glutamine in protection of intestinal epithelial tight junctions. Journal of Epithelial Biology and Pharmacology, 5 (Suppl. 1-M7), 47–54.

Wienecke, E., & Nolden, C. 2016. Magnesium intake and stress reduction. MMW Fortschritte Der Medizin, 158 (Suppl. 6), 12–16.

Recruit the Glutes: 6 Exercises to Improve Mobility and Strength

Recruit the Glutes: 6 Exercises to Improve Mobility and Strength  | Angel Chelik | Expert Articles | 6/22/2017

Strong glutes produce mobile hips, a stable core, and a decreased risk of knee and back pain.

To train the three main muscles of the glutes—the glute minimus, medius and maximus—you must have your clients or class participants do more than squats and lunges. The gluteus maximus’ primary role is to extend and externally rotate the hip—it is the main muscle that pushes your leg back when you walk. That is, if you walk correctly. With digital devices now stuck to our hands, walking has turned more into a shuffle. The glutes and hip are barely working and holding onto a phone halts the natural swing of the arms. When discussing the importance of training the glutes, I ask my clients to be mindful of walking “hands free.” Walking with purpose and intention will not only draw them into a more upright position, it will get them where they want to go faster!

The gluteus minimus and medius assist in abducting the leg away from the midline of the body. These smaller muscles are prime movers during walking, particularly during the “stance” phase, or when the feet are in contact with the ground. They work to keep both hips at the same level.

Add these six exercises into your classes and programs and your participants are sure to experience significant increases in strength and mobility.

1. Side Plank With Clam Shell (gluteus minimus and medius)

Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder and your hips stacked. Keep the bottom knee on the floor and push up into a modified side plank. At the same time, externally rotate your top hip. Slowly drop the top knee down to the bottom knee to close the clamshell as you tap your bottom hip to the floor. Repeat 12-15 reps, then flip over to the other side and repeat.



2. Prone Frogger (gluteus maximus)

Lie prone and bend your knees to 90 degrees. Externally rotate your hips, so that your knees separate (about 12 inches apart) and your heels touch. Keep your head down and engage your glutes as you push your feet up toward the sky. Your quadriceps should lift off the floor. Pause at the top before slowly lowering back down to the starting position. Perform 12-15 repetitions.



3. Side Balance Leg Circles (gluteus minimus and medius)

Place your hand on the floor, directly under your shoulder. Place your bottom knee under your hip. Lift your top leg and line your foot up with your top hip. While moving from the hip, draw 10 small circles in one direction, and then reverse the circle for another 10 repetitions. Switch sides and complete another set with the other leg.



4. Glute Bridge With Band (gluteus maximus)

Place a mini band around your calves. Lie on your back and lift your hips into a bridge position. While keeping tension on the band, tap your hips down to the floor and then lift back up. Keep a straight spine and move primarily from the hips. Perform 15-20 repetitions.



5. Seated Mini-band Hip Abduction (gluteus minimus and medius)

Place the band around your calves and sit down with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Position your hands on the floor slightly behind you. Keep a straight back and press your legs out to the sides, externally rotating the hips. Maintain control as the legs come back together. Repeat 12-15 repetitions.



6. Elevated Plank With Leg Lift (gluteus maximus)

Place the band around the calves. Rest your hands on a bench/step, directly under your shoulders. While maintaining a plank position, squeeze your glutes as you alternately lift each leg. Complete 12-15 repetitions with each leg.


Animal vs. Plant Protein: Which is King of the Fitness and Health World?

June 13, 2017


We were fortunate to grow up in a healthy household (our parents were basically hippies minus the drugs). As such, we ate a mostly plant-based diet and consumed a lot of homemade granola. Our mom insisted that we eat protein at every meal so we would grow and be strong. When a meal didn’t contain animal protein, we got our protein from beans and legumes (what many now refer to as pulses). When we reached middle school, we learned that one of our new friends was a vegan and didn’t consume anything from animals, which made us wonder if the protein she derived from plants was the same as protein from animals.

Today, as registered dietitians, we find that our clients wonder the same thing—is plant protein the same as animal protein? Does the body use them the same way? If you become vegan, can you really get the quality protein that you need? Here are the answers to these questions and more…

Q: First things first. What does your body do with protein?

A: Your body uses protein, which it breaks down into a more useable form called amino acids, for nearly every metabolic process in the body.

Q: Do all proteins contain the same amino acids?

A: Just as all fruits and veggies contain different combinations of phytonutrients, different proteins vary in the types and amount of amino acids they contain. The body uses 20 different amino acids, which are designated as either essential or non-essential proteins. While your body can produce the non-essential amino acids, there are nine essential amino acids that you want to make sure you get from the food you eat. These essential amino acids are needed for the body to function at its best.

Animal proteins (e.g., poultry, fish, meat, dairy products, eggs and seafood) typically contain a good mix of the body’s essential amino acids, while plant proteins (e.g., pulses, nuts and seeds) are known as “incomplete protein” and tend to be low in some essential amino acids such as tryptophan, lycine, methionine and isoleucine.

Q: If plant proteins are low in some essential amino acids, how do vegans get adequate protein to prevent muscle breakdown (and even to build it)?

Because every food contains different amino acids, simply eating a wide variety of foods that contain plant protein throughout the day provides a range of the necessary essential amino acids. Vegans, in particular, should include foods daily from each of the following categories:

  • Pulses (beans and legumes)
  • Grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy

Q: Aside from amino-acid content, are plant and animal proteins the same for your overall health?

A: While animal proteins have a leg up in the protein department because they contain all nine essential amino acids, plant proteins seem to have an advantage when it comes to health benefits. Just as some plant proteins lack certain essential amino acids, some animal protein foods, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy foods (e.g., cheeseburger and a milkshake) are high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease when eaten in excess. By contrast, diets that are high in plant protein sources are associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. People who get most of their protein from plant-based sources are likely eating less cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated fat, while also being more likely to be living healthier lifestyles, both of which may attribute a good deal to the link with better health.

Weighing the Benefits

In addition to fiber, some of the winning nutrients in plant-based proteins are antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are not only critical in muscle recovery after a workout, they also protect cells from damage due to aging and help guard cells from disease. Animal proteins do not contain these added benefits.

Animal proteins do have some advantages, however, including vitamin B12, (which you can’t find in plants), heme iron (which is found mainly in meat and is much better absorbed than the non-heme iron found in plants) and often zinc and vitamin D (which are more difficult to get in plant protein foods). All of these nutrients are critical for optimal health.

Here’s some good news: If you eat a healthy diet, you can be a meat eater or a vegetarian and live to be a centenarian. However, because vegetarian diets are associated with added health benefits and a lower risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, most people could benefit by consuming a few more plant-based meals.

If you’re interested in incorporating more meatless meals into your diet, here are a few delicious options to try:

And here are a few healthy animal-based protein recipes worth trying as well:

The Nutrition Twins
The Nutrition Twins ContributorTammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

What Really Causes Muscle Spasms and Cramps?

Research helps explain the cause and best treatment of muscle spasms and cramps

Muscle spasms
Muscle spasms.

If you’ve ever had muscle spasms or muscle cramps, you know they can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm so forcefully that it results in a bruise on the skin. Most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle. A serious muscle spasm doesn’t release on its own and requires manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle. Spasms and cramps can be mild or extremely painful.

While they can happen to any skeletal muscle, they are most common in the legs and feet and muscles that cross two joints (the calf muscle, for example). Cramps can involve part of a muscle or all the muscles in a group. The most commonly affected muscle groups are:

  • Back of lower leg/calf (gastrocnemius).
  • Back of thigh (hamstrings).
  • Front of thigh (quadriceps).
  • Feet, hands, arms, abdomen

Muscle cramps range in intensity from a slight twitch or tic to severe pain. A cramped muscle can feel rock-hard and last a few seconds to several minutes or longer. It is not uncommon for cramps to ease up and then return several times before they go away entirely.

What Causes Muscle Cramps

The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:

  • Altered neuromuscular control
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte depletion
  • Poor conditioning
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Doing a new activity

Other factors that have been associated with muscle cramps include exercising in extreme heat.

The belief is that muscle cramps are more common during exercise in the heat because sweat contains fluids as well as electrolyte (salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium). When these nutrients fall to certain levels, the incidence of muscle spasms increases. Because athletes are more likely to get cramps in the preseason, near the end of (or the night after) intense or prolonged exercise, some feel that a lack of conditioning results in cramps.

Research Supports Altered Neuromuscular Control as the Cause of Cramps

While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism the leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC). Altered neuromuscular control is often related to muscle fatigue and results in a disruption of muscle coordination and control.

According to a review of the literature conducted by Martin Schwellnus from the University of Cape Town, the evidence supporting both the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps is not convincing. He reviewed the available literature supporting these theories and found mostly anecdotal clinical observations and one small case-control study with only 10 subjects. He also found another four clinical prospective cohort studies that clearly did not support the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps. In his review, Schwellnus concludes that the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses do not offer plausible pathophysiological mechanisms with supporting scientific evidence that could adequately explain the clinical presentation and management of exercise-associated muscle cramping.

He goes on to write:

“Scientific evidence for the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is based on evidence from research studies in human models of muscle cramping, epidemiological studies in cramping athletes, and animal experimental data. Whilst it is clear that further evidence to support the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is also required, research data are accumulating that support this as the principal pathophysiological mechanism for the aetiology of exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC).”

Treating Muscle Cramps

Cramps usually go away on their own without treatment, but these tips appear to help speed the healing process:

Preventing Muscle Cramps

Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:

Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.


Cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) – altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? M. P. Schwellnus. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009; 43:401-408.

Muscle Cramp. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops.
  • Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
  • Stretch regularly after exercise
  • Warm up before exercise
  • Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
  • Stretch the hamstring muscle: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
  • Stretch the quadriceps muscle: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)

7 Protein Sources That Aren’t Meat

I’m a big proponent of eating lots of protein. It’s a vital nutrient for our bodies, and it’s also a fantastic hunger buster. However, steak and burgers aren’t your only options. I’m Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and I have seven sources of protein that aren’t meat!

Why Is Protein Important?

Protein is a crucial macronutrient, and it’s found in many healthy and delicious foods. Most people know that meat is a protein, but some other protein sources might surprise you.

If you’ve heard the term “complete protein” (one with all nine amino acids that our bodies need) and are concerned that some of these sources may not be complete, have no fear! If you incorporate a variety of incomplete proteins into your diet, you’re likely to get all the aminos you need. Here are some of my favorite non-meat protein sources.

1. Greek Yogurt

Yogurt was never the star player on team protein until Greek yogurt entered the game. This yogurt is strained differently from regular dairy yogurt, so it retains more protein and less sugar. Plus, it has a thicker consistency. Plain Greek yogurt has about 24 grams of protein per cup. Impressive! Wondering how to enjoy this miracle food? Zazzle it up!

And for an easy breakfast bowl that you’ll flip for, check this out. Make it in a jar if you want to take it to go.

Peach Mango Bowl
Entire recipe: 323 calories, 7.5g total fat (0.5g sat fat), 124mg sodium, 53g carbs, 12.5g fiber, 32g sugars, 23.5g protein

1. In a medium bowl, mix 6 ounces (about 2/3 cup) fat-free plain Greek yogurt, 1 no-calorie sweetener packet (like Truvia), and a dash of cinnamon.

2. Top yogurt with 1 cup chopped peach and 1/2 cup chopped mango (both fresh or thawed from frozen), followed by 1/4 cup high-fiber bran cereal, and 1/2 ounces (about 2 tablespoons) chopped pistachios.

2. Beans

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, if it’s protein you’re after, eating beans is smart! Black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans are all good sources of protein, with around 12.5 grams per cup. Add them to salads, egg scrambles, and steamed veggies. Bonus: They’re good for weight loss!

3. Tuna

Make fish a part of your weekly menu. Tuna contains about 25 grams of protein per 4-ounce portion. (Salmon too!) If cost is a concern, canned/pouched tuna is a smart way to get that protein for less. It’s fantastic on salads, whole-grain crackers, and in this healthy noodle casserole.

Rockin’ Tuna Noodle Casserole
1/4th of casserole: 167 calories, 5g total fat (1g sat fat), 882mg sodium, 14g carbs, 4g fiber, 2g sugars, 16.5g protein

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8” x 8” baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. Drain and rinse 3 bags of House Foods Tofu Shirataki Fettuccine Shaped Noodle Substitute. Thoroughly pat dry, and roughly cut. Microwave for 1 minute, and pat dry again.

3. Add 1 wedge of The Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Light cheese, breaking it into pieces. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until melted, and mix well.

4. Drain and flake a 6-ounce can of albacore tuna packed in water.

Stir tuna into the noodles, along with 1/2 cup frozen peas, a 10.75-ounce can of 98 percent fat-free cream of mushroom condensed soup, and 1 tablespoon Parmesan-style grated topping. Transfer mixture to the baking pan.

5. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parm-style topping. Bake until hot and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.

If it’s salmon you’re looking for, did you know that you can prepare salmon baked in a packet of foil?

4. (Green) Soybeans

The king of beans by far is the soybean. Unlike other beans, it’s a complete protein! Mature raw soybeans contain a whopping 22 grams of protein per cup, and raw edamame has about 33 grams per cup.

 They make a perfect snack, and edamame is the first thing I order when I go out for sushi (which is often!). It’s one of my sushi dos!

5. Lentils

Another stellar source of protein is the mighty lentil. Lentils taste great and are nutritional powerhouses. One cooked cup has about 18 grams of protein. Just like beans, they can be eaten solo, made into dips, paired with chicken or fish, stuffed into potatoes, added to soups, and tossed with veggies or rice. For convenience, you can buy them already prepared. I love the ones from Trader Joe’s!

6. Meat Substitutes: Tofu, Seitan & Tempeh

You probably know about tofu, but if you haven’t heard about seitan and tempeh, you’re missing out. All of these contain a good dose of protein; seitan contains the most, with about 18 grams per 3-ounce portion. Seiten is a wheat gluten with a chewy, meaty texture. Tempeh is a soy product (like tofu). It differs from tofu in that it’s fermented and more flavorful, and it has a crumblier texture. Try them all and choose your favorite. Here’s an easy recipe made with tofu, but feel free to swap in one of the others!

Turbo Tofu Stir-Fry
1/4th of recipe (about 1 1/3 cups): 189 calories, 6.5g total fat (0.5g sat fat), 768mg sodium, 16.5g carbs, 4g fiber, 7g sugars, 13g protein

1. Drain a 12-ounce package of block-style extra-firm tofu, and lay it on a dry surface, with the shorter sides on the left and right. Vertically cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces. Horizontally cut each piece into 4 smaller pieces.

2. To make the sauce, in a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium/lite soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, a dash of ginger, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Whisk until cornstarch has dissolved.

3. Bring a skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to high heat. Add tofu and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes, gently flipping to evenly brown. Transfer to a large bowl, and cover to keep warm.

4. Add the following ingredients to the skillet: 4 cups frozen stir-fry vegetables, 3 cups frozen broccoli florets, and 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic. Cover and cook until hot, about 5 minutes.

5. Give the sauce mixture a stir and add to the skillet, along with the tofu. Cook and stir until sauce has thickened slightly and tofu is hot, about 3 minutes.

7. Eggs

You get 6 grams of protein from just one large egg! The egg whites contain a bit more protein than the yolk, and I often skip the yolks to save calories. Have eggs for breakfast to keep yourself satisfied until lunch. That’s the protein working for you! Eggs can even be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight, so why not get creative with them? Top a savory spinach and feta oatmeal bowl with one, or mix them up with veggies for an easy Mexican scramble.

For more guilt-free recipes, food finds, tips ‘n tricks, and more, sign up for free daily emails or visit!



Metabolism-damaging Foods

Fit Life /ACE Fit Share


May 26, 2017

Eat fiber and protein-filled meals. Check.

Drink green tea; add ginger, capsaicin and other anti-inflammatory and metabolism-enhancing spices to meals. Check.

Drink plenty of water. Check.

Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Check.

Incorporate interval training into workouts. Check.

Strength train. Check.

Make an effort to move more (take stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the water cooler, etc.) throughout the day. Check.

These lifestyle habits help keep the body’s metabolism at top speed, but it is also important to ensure that the foods you’re consuming aren’t having the opposite effect. Poor dietary choices can affect hormones, inflammation and gut bacteria, all of which can negatively impact your metabolism and cause fat gain.

To keep your metabolism in top working order, swap the following metabolism doozies for these metabolism-boosting actions:

Metabolism Don’t: Refined Carbs


If cookies, cakes, white breads, sugary cereals and jams are literally your jam, your metabolism and waistline may be taking a hit. These foods are stripped of their nutrients and fiber, and they lack protein; both protein and fiber are important players in a speedy metabolism because the body has to burn extra calories to break them down. Without protein and fiber, foods are digested quickly because the body doesn’t have to spend much energy to metabolize them. This metabolizing of the food you eat is known as the thermic effect of food and accounts for 10% of your total energy expenditure.

In one study, participants’ energy expenditure after eating multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese sandwiches (whole food) was compared to their energy expenditure after eating white bread and a processed cheese product (processed food). While the sandwiches contained an equal amount of calories, protein, carbs and fat, the processed meal resulted in 50% less after-meal energy expenditure. In addition to this metabolism downside, refined carbs offer little more than a short burst of energy followed by a crash, which is a disastrous recipe for having the energy to be active and to burn calories.

Refined carbs also raise blood sugar and promote inflammation that is associated with chronic diseases, which can unfavorably alter the body’s metabolism.

Metabolism Do: Swap refined and processed carbs like white breads, white flour, cookies and cake for unprocessed, wholesome, quality carbohydrates like fruits and beans, and whole grains like oats, quinoa, barley and millet. Other good choices include starchy veggies like potatoes, peas, and corn (non-starchy veggies are great, too, but they don’t have as many calories to provide long-term fuel for the body).

Wholesome, quality carbs keep your metabolism humming by providing long-lasting energy, thanks in part to their fiber, which slows digestion, prevents energy highs followed by energy crashes, and causes the body to have to burn extra calories to break it down. Beans, quinoa, barley and millet contain protein, which helps to keep energy levels stable while increasing the thermic effect. Unprocessed carbohydrates are packed with phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds, which fight disease and the damage associated with aging, so they keep all systems in your body working efficiently, including metabolism.

Metabolism Don’t: Sugary Drinks Containing High-fructose Corn Syrup


Most people don’t realize that you can slurp down loads of calories from soda (or any caloric beverage) without your brain getting a signal that you’ve consumed calories and don’t need to eat more. Not only is that bad for your waistline, but getting too much sugar can also cause insulin resistance and excess fat accumulation in the liver and abdominal cavity. When your body gets a lot of glucose, it initiates a shift in your metabolism. The breakdown of fat is reduced and the synthesis of new fat begins. Simply, insulin takes excess glucose into fat cells and triggers the storage of fat.

According to the results of a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, high-fructose corn syrup, in particular, may be more damaging for the metabolism and could lead to obesity.

Metabolism Do: Drink water. You’ve heard this 100 times, because it’s true—every chemical reaction in your body relies on water. If you don’t get enough, your metabolism suffers and can’t work efficiently. Drink adequate amounts of water and your metabolism becomes a well-oiled machine.

If you need help consuming more water, try these flavorful boosts—all contain herbs or fruits that act as powerful anti-inflammatories to keep your body free of harm so your metabolism can function at its best.

Lemon Ginger Turmeric “Detox” Tea

Cucumber Blueberry Water Flush

Lemon Ginger Detox Drink

Vitamin C Infused “Detox” Water

Metabolism Don’t: Saturated Fats


Foods high in saturated fat (such as butter, full-fat dairy products, fatty beef, pork, poultry with skin, lamb and baked goods made with palm oils) often lack two important components that increase the thermic effect: protein and fiber. Moreover, saturated fats promote inflammation and contribute to clogged arteries, increasing one’s risk for heart attacks and heart disease and forcing the body to work less efficiently. This puts a strain on all systems in the body, including metabolism. Chronic inflammation leads to diabetes, cancer and obesity and worsens insulin resistance, which alters metabolism and encourages fat storage.

Metabolism Do: Swap saturated fats for omega-3s, which are found in fatty fish including salmon, herring, sardines, whitefish, tuna, walnuts and flaxseeds Omega-3s act as powerful anti-inflammatories and fight to undo the damage that saturated fats create. Aim to consume at least 3 ounces of omega-3-rich fish twice a week.

As you can see, the same foods and lifestyle habits that keep us healthy are the same ones that increase your metabolism. Simply by taking steps to be healthy, you’ll likely boost your metabolism as well!

The Nutrition Twins
The Nutrition Twins ContributorTammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

Which Stretching Program Is Best for You?

May 18, 2017

In nearly 40 years as a fitness educator, I have never been sidelined by a significant injury, in spite of decades of high-impact classes, rigorous weight training, participation in competitive aerobics, and group exercise schedules that sometimes exceeded 25 hours per week. I attribute my longevity in this grueling business to one thing—cross-training all aspects of fitness, including flexibility.

We place great emphasis on cross-training cardiovascular and resistance conditioning, but flexibility is still an afterthought on many schedules. Although most facilities provide some kind of flexibility-oriented programming, options are often limited. Yoga is popular, and participants enjoy various degrees of flexibility while practicing it. However, while yoga improves range of motion and some aspects of flexibility, cross-training this aspect of fitness would lead to greater gains.

Today’s workouts are dominated by high-intensity, physically challenging movements. The rise of these programs has led to more injuries. A more effective stretching regime could help to minimize damage from overuse. On the other end of the spectrum, sedentary people may be dealing with muscle dysfunction and atrophy, along with limited ROM in some areas of the body. A varied stretching routine may remedy many of their difficulties. Regardless of fitness level, flexibility training is vital. Fascia makes up as much as 30% of a muscle’s total mass, and accounts for about 41% of a muscle’s total resistance to movement (Rahman et al. 2015). Fascial restrictions contribute greatly to mobility limitations, so a comprehensive program that includes a variety of stretching techniques should be part of any fitness regimen.

Stretching Techniques

There are many different stretching options to choose from, and the right program depends on genetic makeup, personal preferences, injury history, age, gender, weight, body type and activity level. Because movement occurs through many planes, not just forward and backward, it’s beneficial to stretch in as many positions as possible. Not all techniques are right for everyone, and some stretches are contraindicated for people with specific injuries; however, mixing and matching leads to the best results. Here are some of the most popular choices:

    • Ballistic stretching uses a fast bounce to push the body beyond its normal ROM. While this practice may be beneficial for certain athletes, it can increase the risk of injury for average fitness enthusiasts.

    • Dynamic stretching employs active movements through full ROM to stretch and prepare muscles and joints for activity. It helps to increase blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion.

    • Active Isolated Stretching involves extending a muscle, holding that position for 2 seconds and then returning to the starting position. This targets and lengthens the muscle without triggering the protective stretch reflex and subsequent reciprocal antagonistic muscle contraction, since the isolated muscle achieves a state of relaxation. If stressed too far too fast, however, the body will react. Therefore, AIS calls for multiple repetitions to build the body’s awareness.

    • Passive stretching uses outside assistance to achieve results. This “assistance” could be body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person or a stretching device. The key is to relax through the stretch while continuing to maintain pressure as the muscle lengthens.

    • Reciprocal inhibition involves stretching a muscle and then actively contracting the opposing muscle group. With this technique, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch, and you rely on the opposing muscle(s) to initiate the stretch.

    • Static stretching requires holding a stretch in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, somewhere between 15 and 90 seconds.

    • Isometric static stretching involves no movement. The technique is based on tensing the muscles that are being stretched.

    • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of flexibility training that involves stretching and contracting targeted muscles. It consists of a passive stretch, then a muscular force or contraction, and finally a second, deeper passive release.

  • Myofascial release uses stretching, compression, direct pressure and other techniques to release restricted areas of fascia, ideally creating a biochemical and mechanical change that allows for more efficient movement. Foam rollers and other niche products assist in targeting and releasing the tissue.


Share the following cues and tips with your participants for best cross-training results:

  • Combine stretching techniques and see which ones work best for you.
  • Breathe in a manner that feels natural or enhances the techniques. Do not hold your breath.
  • Test your flexibility, and document any positive or negative changes to keep things in check.

Create a journal or take pictures/video.

  • Take your muscles only to a position where you can remain relaxed, never to a point of intense pain.
  • Stretch both sides of the body equally. If there is a need to focus on one specific area, add isolated work.
  • Regardless of the technique, start slowly and add intensity appropriately. The body will adapt, and tolerance will increase.
  • Don’t stretch tendons and ligaments to a significantly greater length, as this could compromise joint stability.
  • Be cautious and use good judgment when using myofascial release techniques. Going too hard or overworking a particular area can cause damage and inflammation. If you are sore days after you roll, or you are bruised, back off.
  • Stay well-hydrated.

For best practices when teaching stretching and additional methods for flexibility programming, please see “Why Cross-Train Flexibility?” in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2017 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 15, Issue 6

Why Nutrition Is the Most Important Part of Fitness Eat Right to Change Your Body, Health, and Life

An Overview of Sports Nutrition


The food we eat plays a vital role in how we look and feel. Regular exercise is important but according to research, nutrition has the largest impact on our fitness. Using food as our medicine has become a popular theme for health improvement.

The trend is now to focus on healthy food intake as a primary fitness goal. When healthy eating habits become a lifestyle, we are healthier and happier. Eating right allows us to reduce body fat, lose a few pounds, feel more confident and reduce our risk of illness.

Chronic studies are indicating healthy food intake as the most important part of our fitness programs. Some physicians are teaching healthy eating habits/lifestyle as a way to improve overall health reducing obesity and related disease.

Food is Our Medicine

Eat Right for a Lean and Healthy Body. skynesher / Getty Images

Nutrient-dense foods or superfoods include lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates, and fats essential to our health. Superfoods are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Antioxidants are shown to reduce inflammation in our body helping us fight disease and illness. Inflammation is said to be the leading cause of many diseases. Powerful antioxidants in leafy greens and vegetables, for example, help detoxify the body removing harmful chemicals.

Some superfoods contain compounds that increase our metabolism for more efficient fat burning. Red peppers contain a molecule called capsaicin shown to enhance the rate we burn body fat.

Eating healthy food will not only help improve our health but also enable us to finally reach desired fitness goals.

How Do Quercetin Rich Foods Help?

Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant naturally occurring in a wide variety of plant foods. In fact, quercetin research indicates it to be one of the most potent antioxidants with numerous health benefits.

Many athletes supplement with quercetin to reduce muscle inflammation caused by intense workouts. According to a study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, quercetin supplementation significantly improved athletic performance, increased metabolic rate and lean mass among athletes.

The following foods are a rich source of quercetin:

  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Berries

Increase Your Metabolism Naturally

Your best fat burner is not going to come in a bottle but by eating foods containing certain compounds. We can increase the rate we burn fat naturally according to nutrition research.

Eating foods that stimulate and enhance the fat burning process will help us reduce fat more effectively. Adding metabolism boosting foods will be a great supplement to your existing workout and nutrition program.

The following foods are shown to increase our metabolism:

  • Hot peppers (active component capsaicin)
  • Green tea (active component caffeine)
  • Black coffee (active component caffeine)
  • Cold water (500 ml of water daily increased metabolic rate by 30%)
  • Whole grains (aiding component fiber and iron)
  • Yogurt (aiding component calcium and probiotics)
  • Apples (aiding component fiber)
  • Nuts and seeds (aiding component essential fatty acids)
  • Fatty fish (aiding component Omega-3 fatty acids)

Peanut Butter is a Superfood

Peanut butter just so happens to be the number one sports nutrition superfood. It contains healthy fat, is nutrient-dense and shown to provide long-lasting energy for optimal athletic performance.

Selecting natural or organic peanut butter is recommended to avoid added sugar and preservatives. Peanut butter is high in fiber and an excellent source of plant protein. It also contains niacin, folate, vitamin E and other essential nutrients and minerals.

Peanut butter contains quality nutrients and supplies lasting energy at 90 calories per 2 tablespoon serving. It also contains 7 grams of protein per ounce compared to other nuts only supplying 4 grams. Adequate protein intake is essential for muscle growth.

It is low in saturated fat and cholesterol making it a heart healthy food. Research indicates consuming 1.5 ounces of peanut butter per day may reduce the risk of heart disease.

What are Fitness Foods?

The term fitness food is interchangeable the superfoods. Eating a diet rich in fitness foods is essential to our health. Incorporating healthy nutrition and knowing what that means is vital to achieving a lean and healthy body.

The following is a favored list of superfoods among fitness enthusiasts:

  • Oats (high in fiber, improves digestion/increases metabolism)
  • Eggs (protein source, muscle building)
  • Greens (antioxidants, reduces inflammation)
  • Apples (antioxidants, reduces inflammation/increases metabolism)
  • Lean meats/fish (amino acids, protein source, muscle building)

Is Coffee Healthy or Not?

Should we drink coffee? This is a popular question and although not the best drink for some, overall studies show coffee as beneficial to our health and fitness.

Coffee contains antioxidants but also caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant shown to increase our metabolic rate. Many athletes are using coffee as a pre-workout drink to benefit from this effect. Low to moderate doses (1-2 cups) of coffee are shown to significantly improve athletic performance.

Drinking black coffee 30 minutes prior to exercise is said to have the best ergogenic results. It’s shown to improve our endurance and enable us to exercise longer.

Coffee is also indicated to improve our mental focus and increase energy levels. Clearer thinking promotes a more productive and effective workout. Coffee is also shown to reduce exercise-induced muscle pain.

Coffee also contains powerful antioxidants shown to reduce chronic disease and illness. Studies have shown it help individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease and to reduce the incidence of gallstones.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, it’s recommended to consult your physician if you are hypertensive, pregnant, have diagnosed heart disease, or are nursing prior to drinking coffee.

Eat Superfoods Daily

Superfoods play an important part in achieving and maintaining a healthy body. Nutritionists may vary in their lists of which foods are best but agree they’re all essential. Eating a wide variety of superfoods daily will satisfy nutrient requirements for optimal body functioning.

Start with the following top superfoods for improved health and fitness:

  • Oats (high in fiber, improved digestion, heart health)
  • Blueberries (antioxidants, reduces inflammation, cancer-fighting)
  • Apples (antioxidants, reduces inflammation, weight loss)
  • Green tea (antioxidants, increases metabolism, weight loss)
  • Flaxseed (essential fatty acids, increases metabolism, reduces inflammation)
  • Broccoli (antioxidants, cancer-fighting, detox)
  • Yogurt (calcium, probiotic, improved digestion, bone health)
  • Olive oil (monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)/heart health)
  • Beans (high in fiber, antioxidants, improved brain function)
  • Cinnamon (antioxidants, detox, healing spice)


Di Noia J. Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:130390.

Emilio Ros, Health Benefits of Nut Consumption, National Institutes of Health, 2010

Erica R Goldstein et al., International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance, 1/27/10

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Water-Induced Thermogenesis, Michael Boschmann, 7/2/13