Nutrition Tips for Memorial Day Weekend

What doesn’t bend will eventually break. This concept applies to many situations, and in this case: your diet and lifestyle. If your nutrition regimen is so strict that it allows for zero flexibility, you’re far more likely to binge eat, create an unhealthy relationship with food and feel deprived. You’ll realize (I hope) that none of those three side-effects are desirable results, or ones you’d associate with a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle.

Being satisfied and actually liking the food you eat while simultaneously working toward your goals, AND having a social life is not a lifestyle only found in a mythical land far away. It can be your reality! It does take time, and you’ll get there through small steps and little efforts at a time. I’ve compiled tried-and-true strategies and suggestions to help you enjoy your Memorial Day celebration while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

Eat before you eat

Pre-eat. You read that right. You’re thinking “you want me to eat...before I go to eat?” Yes. Your body craves the good, basic stuff: proteins, fats, and carbs. Protein is found in chicken breast and egg whites, just like it is found in hot dogs and hamburgers. Fat is in avocados and dairy products, and in the mayo that makes chicken salad so tasty. And, in simple terms, your body sees the carbs in brown rice and fruit the same way it does hot dog buns. Therefore, eat some wholesome food (such as what you’d meal prep for lunch during the workweek) before you head to the BBQ, so you’re already quite satisfied of the things your body needs and craves, before you’re put in a will-power testing situation. 

This practice has a dual purpose: in addition to being content from a macronutrient perspective, you won’t be as hungry. We all know what happens when you grocery shop on an empty stomach, and a pool party is no different. You end up buying and eating things you didn’t even know you wanted (and in most cases, really don’t want). Set yourself up beforehand so when you arrive, you’ll only want something if it’s absolutely worth it.

Friends don’t let friends eat grocery store dessert

“Worth it”, what does that mean? Great question. You know that favorite dessert you have? Maybe it’s a certain flavor at the Cheesecake Factory, or that award-winning combination at Coldstone Creamery. Picture that item in your mind for a moment. Now, think of what a cookie from the box at the grocery store bakery tastes like, or a brownie from the gas station. Would you say they are comparable? Probably not. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying “this is exactly what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Do you feel confident saying that about a crappy, store-bought cookie? Make your indulgences count. This philosophy has really helped me, and I have a post dedicated specifically to it you can check out here.

Similar to the dessert example, there are plenty of foods that don’t seem indulgent that you may eat at a pool-side BBQ that you wouldn’t ordinarily, like potato chips and tons of condiments. An average hot dog bun is 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2g of fat and 3g of protein. And be honest with yourself: do they even taste that good? And if you do actually love it, try having half of the bun with the whole hot dog. This concept introduces moderation, which is further explained in the next tip. 

Moderation is key

I know you hear this a lot, largely because it’s true. Let’s say you eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s 28 times you eat in a given week. Now if you “cheat” or eat something less than ideal for one of those meals, that’s not even 4% of all the food you ate in those 7 days. Any dietician or statistician can assure you that if you’re doing something quite well 96% of the time, the 4% won’t make a huge detrimental impact to your overall success. LeBron James, one of the best basketball players of all time, has a career shooting average of only about 50%. If he misses almost half the shots he makes and is still that good, you’ll be okay going a little off track on one meal in a week every now and then.

The nice thing about a wagon, is you can get back on

It’s your wagon; you’re the one driving it! If you fall off, stop your own wagon, dust the dirt off your pants, and get right back on. The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. A “cheat” meal is that: a meal. If you choose to have all of the food, calorie, indulging freedom on Memorial Day, keep it to a meal and remember that the next meal, and next day, should go right back to normal. In this situation, it can be really helpful to have your next meal planned. Your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer you wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours. 

Wait, there’s more!

For some additional practical tips and healthier picks, here are some ideas:

  • Ditch your hamburger bun, and wrap it in lettuce
  • Grab a single plate and toss it when you’re done, instead of grabbing a second helping
  • Pickles are good for satisfying the salt craving, so snack some of those instead of potato chips for the salty satisfaction without the extra carbs and oils
  • Use your fist as a guide; have only that much (in size) of any potato, egg, or chicken salad
  • Keep the condiments to a minimum; try having less than you usually do. Two tablespoons of ketchup packs 10g carbs, and you’ve likely spread on more than that in the past out of habit
  • Drinks lots of water: it will not only keep you hydrated in the heat, but feeling fuller as well. You’ve heard this tip before, but actually do it — have some water, and then have some more.
  • Add fruit to your water for some flavor and summer flare. Skip the carbonated beverages, such as diet soda, dehydrate you and can make you feel bloated.
  • Bring sparkling water to the party so you know you'll have something good to sip on
  • Don’t sit by the food table: distance yourself from the temptation by getting out and enjoying the pool water, weather, green grass and outdoor activities
  • Chew gum so you don’t nibble on something just for the sake of nibbling
  • Bring one of your favorite healthy dishes to share, so you’re in control of at least one item available to snack on
  • Don’t think about what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, instead add more good stuff! Pack on the veggies, fruit, and wholesome ingredients to whatever you’re eating -- which in turn, makes less room for the junk, both on your plate and in your belly.
  • Look for better options, regardless of the options you’re given: when possible, pick leaner proteins like chicken, turkey or fish over beef. Choose whole-grains or plant-based carbs (like corn or rice) instead of highly-processed ones like breads and desserts. 

And at the end of the day remember: you’re building a healthy lifestyle, this is a long-term game. Enjoying yourself without guilt isn’t an easy feat, but I encourage you to embrace life balance. Your nutrition goals, friends and family, and happiness will thank you for it.

Have any plans this weekend?

If you're looking for something fun to do on your next day off, look no further, because I have an idea for you that is fun AND helps you get an awesome start on your meal prep! What could it be?

Go visit your local farmers market! To get a list of the ones in your area, click here.

If you're not sure what the big deal is with farmers markets or shopping local, just hear me out:

First, it's the prime spot to buy locally produced food: The food looks and tastes betterbecause it’s grown in the natural season, picked at the perfect peak of freshness, and doesn’t need added preservatives to sustain travel time or to prolong shelf life.

There's an opportunity to discover foods you may not have tried before, and incorporate them into your cooking for new flavors and added variety of nutrients. Large retailers can't sufficiently stock very unique items, but a local shop can and often do bring character, charm and rare finds to places like the farmers market.

It's a great place to meet other community members who care about locally sourced food, as well as grab a bargain because the middleman and transportation costs are eliminated. And, you likely get to talk to the person who actually grew your food — how cool is that?!

When you shop at the farmers market, you're also supporting the environment.When items have to travel long distances it uses an enormous amount of fuel. If only 10% of ingredients were sourced from a state grower instead of corporate farm, it would save 310,000 gallons of fuel annually (source). Additionally, food that takes a while to get from farm to table demands special packing and storing methods that are typically not recycled.

Shopping local helps financially support those living in and caring for your community, and provides you the delightful opportunity to get closer to the root of your food source (no pun intended).

Go check out a farmers market near you this weekend, and reply back and let me know what you find in the comments below! :)

Recipe: You won't believe how easy (and delicious!) this spaghetti squash is

It's no secret I love spaghetti squash. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the health benefits and basically why it rocks, so check it out if you haven't already. This recipe is my latest take on the versatile vegetable, and it's easily now one of my favorites. With the perfect amount of flavor, it's a staple side or base to a main dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large spaghetti squash

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt

  • Black pepper

  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

  2. Cut spaghetti squash length-wise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon

  3. Brush the inside of the squash halves with 1 tbsp oil (1/2 tbsp each) and season generously with salt and pepper

  4. Place the halves face up on a baking sheet for about 30 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. Then, remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to touch.

  5. Use a fork to scrape the inside of the squash, creating spaghetti-like strands. Set aside.

  6. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly brown (about 3 minutes).

  7. Turn off heat, add cheese and reserved spaghetti squash to the pan. Use tongs to evenly coat.

  8. Enjoy!

Note: If you want to use this as a main course instead of a side dish, just add protein! Ground turkey, lean ground beef, chicken sausage, shrimp, salmon or chicken (grilled, baked, rotisserie) are all great options.

To have extras for later and/or use as the base of a meal, consider cooking 2 spaghetti squashes at the same time.

Nutrition: Per serving (about 1/4 of recipe): 3g carb, 3g protein, 8g fat - 96 calories

I’d like to introduce you to Roger

Roger Zetah knows a thing or two about investments, to say the least. He spends his weekdays clocking long hours at the office as a 58-year-old CPA (certified public accountant). Though, that’s not the particular facet of his life that fascinated me: it’s his investment in health in and out of the CrossFit gym we attend together.

When he’s not hitting the workout of the day with the class, he’s in the back training to improve his olympic weightlifting mechanics. He’s an accomplished athlete, missing qualifying for Regionals as a Masters competitor by only 35 spots and 5 spots, respectively, the last two years. And for those who know as little about the Masters category as I: it’s a worldwide competition where only 200 of the best move on to Regionals. I got curious about what keeps him going; age aside, at a time when so many people across the board struggle to maintain consistency of gym attendance. So I asked him if we could chat after a workout.

He’s certainly got an admirable level of determination, which became painfully clear when I found out his first CrossFit workout ever, five years ago, involved 100 thrusters.

I loved a particular story he shared: when he was focused on getting his muscle-up, he actually changed his license plate to say “muscle-up” to constantly remind him. Then he got it! Maybe if I borrow his car, my gymnastics will improve too.

With my knowledge on nutrition I was pretty convinced he was killing it the kitchen too, but of course I had to ask.

“It’s huge how much eating impacts performance,” Roger said.

He wasn’t at all shy to admit he absolutely dreads cooking, but suffers through time in the kitchen every Sunday to meal prep and set himself up for success, thus being able to avoid the task for the next six days. Chicken breast (particularly prepared through his newfound love of the crockpot), ground turkey, a variety of vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, sweet potatoes and small amounts of fruit are on the menu for his typical day.

He explained that weighing and measuring his food doesn’t interest him, though he did go strict Paleo for 42 days at an old gym for a group challenge where he dropped to an unsustainable 4% body fat.

“For the first two weeks (on Paleo) I didn’t want to be around sharp instruments,” Roger joked. “And performance wise I didn’t have enough energy.”

After ditching that method, he’s discovered that intuitively eating quality foods keeps him feeling good in the gym and satisfied throughout the day. Well, that and a little bit of dark chocolate.

“I have a small piece of dark chocolate almost every day. I get my fix and I’m done,” he admits. The minor indulgence keeps him on track, as he doesn’t entertain cheat meals or cheat days. He went on to tell me that he doesn’t ever feel deprived by structuring his nutrition this way.

“Once I started eating better, I stopped craving things. I look at bread and ice cream and to me, it’s not food,” he said.

I pressed for what motivates him to keep his health on the forefront of his priorities, especially with his circumstances: his wife is a recent cancer survivor, he works full-time and hates prepping his food. Crushing excuses like thrusters.

“I feel better. I like working out and I can do things people my age can’t do,” he said. “Everyone at Magna that comes to workout that works out hard inspires me, whether they’re a beginner or have been here 5 years.”

He offered me some of his best advice to share: “If you fall off the track, don’t stay off. And be patient, everything will come in time with discipline.”

I really believe that every person you meet has something to offer. And all too often the opportunity is missed. How frequently do you stare at your phone checking out at the grocery store, instead of engaging with the associate helping you? Or come to the gym and make friendly nods, but never actually learn about the people you’re sweating with? These people all have stories, passions, inspirations and knowledge that is just waiting to be shared.

Thank you Roger, for sharing a piece of your story with me.

 PHOTO BY BRETT BARTLETT

PHOTO BY BRETT BARTLETT

Recipe: Turkey Stuffed Peppers

I tend to keep my cooking pretty easy by focusing on rotating between a few staple items and mixing things up with spice and flavorful, nutrient-dense complimentary ingredients. For more on my simplistic approach, check out my meal prep strategy here. But in this case, it was a chilly evening and I was feeling creative, so I decided to try something new in the kitchen and it did not disappoint. These turkey stuffed peppers are full of flavor, perfectly satisfying and packed with wholesome goodness. Give them a try, and let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • Nonstick spray
  • 6 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly coat medium skillet with nonstick spray and turn to medium heat.
  3. Add onion, garlic and cilantro to pan and sauté about 2 minutes
  4. Add ground turkey, salt, garlic powder and cumin to pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup of chicken broth to pan, mix well and simmer on low for about 5 minutes.
  6. Combine cooked rice and meat together.
  7. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove all seeds. Spoon 2/3 cup meat mixture into each pepper half and place in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top each with 1 tbsp cheese.
  8. Pour the remainder of the chicken broth on the bottom of the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.
  9. Be careful when removing the foil. Let cool for a few minutes before eating, and enjoy! 

Nutrition:

1 serving = half a pepper, makes 6 servings. Per serving: 30.4g carb, 24.2g protein, 4.5g fat | 259 calories

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