Think Zinc!

I’ll admit it – I’m one of those people who has a whole cupboard full of vitamins but only remembers to take them when I’m feeling particularly blah. It’s like going to confession to have my sins absolved or flossing before the dentist. Mentally, one good day reverses three months of neglect… right?

But as you know – minerals and vitamins are pretty important. Even though we are eating wholesome and healthy foods, there are certain things we don’t get enough of. I like to think of vitamins are naturopathic cures – especially when it comes to things like nails, skin, hair, etc. I’d rather tackle those problem areas from the inside-out rather than slather on expensive creams and potions that have dubious results. Yes, I’ve rubbed collagen on my inner thighs and massaged caffeine into my neck jowls. Turns out, it doesn’t do much good in the long run. Most of it sits on the surface and sloughs off with our skin cells.

So I was reading about Zinc and it’s effects on skin problems – especially acne. You know how they put zinc oxide in some acne creams? Well, turns out you can get it naturally in food and reap the same (if not better) results. Biology 101 – Zinc will stimulate the production of collagen and white blood cells. This helps bolster your skin’s defenses, smooth old scars, and fight any infections hiding out in your pores. It also normalizes your production of skin oils and testosterone, both of which – unbalanced – can lead to funky breakouts.

Zinc has a ton of other great effects too. Your taste and smell receptors use zinc, as well as the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory and concentration. It can help you fight colds by boosting your immune cells and reducing (nerd word alert) cytokine responses, which cause inflammation and that overall BLEH feeling you get when you’re sick. Zinc protects our DNA from breaking down when our cells divide, which is super important for pregnant mommies with growing buns in the oven.

For those of us who are dieting, we may be neglecting some of the most zinc-rich foods, red meat in particular. However, there are plenty of healthy options available:

  1. Seafood – especially cooked oysters and lobster, as long as you can take it without the drawn butter (who can tho?).  It has twice the amount of Zinc as red meat though and all those other health benefits.
  2. Spinach – reigns on as king of the superfoods!
  3. Cashews – this is one of my go-to snacks, even though they have high fat content, it’s like eating an avocado.
  4. Dark Chocolate – omfg yass this IS a diet food I promise (in moderation). Antioxidants are the best excuse ever.
  5. Chickpeas – one of the healthier bean choices. They make great additions to soups and salads but are are heaven in chana masala.
  6. Pumpkin Seeds – if you can manage to eat a cup of them (without salt) you’ll get 44% of your daily value of zinc
  7. Toasted Wheat Germ – It may sound gross but it’s an O.G. superfood. Basically, it’s the good part of wheat that’s not starch and fiber. Buy it as a food additive. Use it to substitute half the flour when baking, sprinkle it on your yogurt or smoothies, use it when breading chicken or fish or as a crunchy topping for broiled veggies.

The target goal for adult males is 11 mg/day while adult females need only 8mg/day. If you are really low in zinc, animal sources are going to be your best bet. That’s one reason why vegans and vegetarians are at greatest risk for zinc deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include poor wound healing, fatigue, hair loss, weird food cravings, poor concentration, worse PMS/menopause symptoms and low immunity.

Even if you’re not deficient, try rotating some zinc-rich foods into your diet and enjoy its many health boosting benefits. Be sure to let us know if you notice a difference in your complexion!

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Hate Cardio? You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

I love feeling the burn as much as the next gal, but I just cannot stand cardio. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. All the fitness lore says – you have to mix it up. Challenge your body. Intervals. Cross training. Blah blah blah. Well, I’d just as soon travel back in time to be tortured on a medieval rack while undergoing primitive dental surgery. So, remind me again why I showed up at the gym today?

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The Importance of Pacing

Hey, I’ll go run on a treadmill or ride a bike or swim some laps – no problem. That’s because in those situations, I set the pace.

I’m talking about love-hating (most mostly hating) group-led cardio, like HIIT at Barre Code (High Intensity Interval Training) which I force myself to attend once a week. This is where self-imposed peer pressure has me trying to keep pace with all the skinny girls, who actually seem to ENJOY this torture. Given the option to bounce, they jump. Meanwhile, I’m over there wondering how long I can just stand in place before someone notices.

Now, you’d think I’d just have to work at it more and build up a stamina. Except that’s not really 100% accurate. Stamina and endurance are something you mostly build from long sustained periods of continuous moderate activity. Cardio and interval training is more about how well your heart can get revved up to pump oxygenated blood to your super-active muscles, and how quickly it can chill out again between sets.

For a person who is overweight, this is already vastly more difficult. Your body is a lot larger inside than it may seem to you on the outside. Shocking Fact: For every 1 pound of weight you gain, your body produces 70 freaking miles of blood vessels. So jacks and burpees alone are not going to make your cardiovascular system stronger. Losing weight is an essential (if not THE MOST essential) part of that process.

Fortunately for people like me, strength and body resistance training is preferable for boosting metabolism and increasing fat burn throughout the day. When you finish a cardio session, that’s it. Your body shuts off. When you finish a strengthening session, your body is left with a debris field of muscle damage to rebuild – and THAT requires energy (coming in the form of the calories you continue to burn for HOURS afterward).

So what’s the real skinny on cardio? Is it beneficial, and if so, how much?

The Benefits

First off – a regular amount of aerobic exercise during your weekly workout routine is still a great thing. It’s good to get your blood moving. When your heart works harder, large doses of immune cells and oxygenated blood cells sweep throughout your body tissues – repairing damage and generally making you feel more active and alert.

Over time, doing regular cardio will also strengthen your heart muscle, making each pump more effective. Not only does this make you less fatigued during workouts, but also throughout the day. We all hear about how marathon runners have a resting heart rate of like 35 beats per minute. That’s because each one of those beats is worth two of ours.

Isn’t It Ironic?

On the flip side, as with any exercise, TOO MUCH IS NOT A GOOD THING.

1. Once your heart and lungs can’t keep up with the demand, your tissues may be deprived of fully oxygenated blood and can actually begin to break down and die.

2. Your body freaks the F out when you are doing high intensity cardio. It thinks you are being chased by a wild boar or something. Hence, you get a ton of the fight or flight hormones, including cortisol – which is notoriously a cause of weight gain.

3. Part of the stress response is inflammation, which can actually damage your heart vessels or tighten the tubes in your lungs. In marathon runners, long-term damage has been seen. One study pegged them at a 7 times higher risk for having heart problems than the average person. Cue Alanis Morissette.

Now that you’re terrified – let me assure you: If you’re just trying to lose weight and get in shape, chances are you’re not even doing the kind of cardio that can actually damage and kill you. So don’t use this as an excuse to never do another jumping jack again.

Find Your Zone

The point is, you may be doing the kind of cardio that no longer benefits you, and that’s where you have to listen to your body. If you need a visual, you can even track your heart rate. Your “max” is based on several factors like age and BMI. You may know from reading those charts they stick on the treadmills that there’s an ideal zone to be in. Once you get past the max, you’re doing more harm than good.

A quick way to calculate your max heart rate is 220 – your age. 

From there, you will calculate (or ask Siri) 90% of that value, 80%, 70%, etc. to determine the heart rate that puts you in each of Zones. (Example: If max = 190, then 90% of 190 is 171.)

Zone 1: 90% of Max – Danger Zone

  • Feels Like: Hard to breathe, muscles about to fail.
  • Recommended only for young, fit people.
  • Burns only carbs. 
  • Time: Five minutes max

Zone 2: 80% of Max – Pushing It Zone

  • Feels Like: Heavy breathing
  • Recommended only for generally fit people. 
  • Burns almost only carbs. 
  • Time: 2-10 minutes max

Zone 3: 70% of Max – Optimum Fat Burning Zone

  • Feels Like: Moderate to hard breathing
  • Recommended for intermediate to generally fit people.
  • Burns equal amount fat and carbs
  • Time: 10-40 minutes

Zone 4: 60% of Max – Warming Up

  • Feels Like: Light difficulty breathing
  • Recommended for beginners or for warm-ups
  • Burns mostly fat
  • Time: If this is your only exercise, 40-80 minutes for effect. Otherwise, just as a warmup and cool down period.

(Disclaimer: If you have any kind of cardiovascular or other health problems, you clearly should go see a doctor before doing any of this!)

So remember, don’t let peer pressure push your past your limit. The zone of benefit is going to be different for each person at the gym, so it’s totally fine if you have to drop out of that set of mountain climbers before the girl next to you.  You might have just worked harder than she has in less reps, simply because of your age and current BMI.

130 BPM? That’s It? Shoot, That’s like Four Pushups!

Remember, your age may give you a 70% Zone Heart Rate of 130, but that rate is going to be reached a lot differently depending on your body weight. If right now it takes only ten jumping jacks for you to reach Zone 3, don’t worry. Once you lose weight, you’ll be like all the skinny chicks next to you – who are leaping and grinning through A-Jacks and probably only in Zone 4. With weight loss and increased stamina, you’ll be able to do more work per pump.

Willpower isn’t what keeps you going after you want to stop. It’s what keeps you going until you absolutely need to.

High-Intensity Interval Training

As with most things in the fitness world, try to ask yourself: “What Would Caveman Me Do?” Our primitive ancestors were hunter-gatherers, which meant short bursts of high intensity activity followed by lots of rest. Just like a car, most of the power is used in accelerating and braking. Once you’re in cruise control, all you’re doing is wearing out the struts and putting on miles.

Also keep in mind that your active sets need not be the same duration as the people around you. For instance, if a class instructor is leading 2 minutes seconds of jacks and you feel ready to keel over after a minute, take that short break you need to catch your breath and then get back in it. You’ve just divided one burst into two bursts – each peaking at your maximum effort. That’s two for the price of one!

Knowing that your best effort is truly the best thing for you, cardio moves into a much more psychologically friendly realm. Just like with diet – the goal is not to torture yourself, but to understand yourself and what truly works best for you.

 

Superbowl Sunday: Learn to Dance like Beyoncé

Superbowl 50 has officially kicked off! And though the Packers aren’t in it, this year’s event still promises brings together some of my favorite things: football, adorable pre-show kittens, yelling at the TV, and most importantly, Beyoncé!

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Sasha Fierce is hotter than ever right now, having just dropped a new single yesterday and slated to spice up tonight’s half time show. Finding yourself mesmerized by Queen Bey’s killer bod and wondering how she does it? By literally dancing her a$$ off!

Dancing is a fun way to get fit and fierce, the perfect formula that promises to improve flexibility, build muscle and strengthen cardiovascular health. It’s serious cardio that torches calories but is such a good time that you don’t realize how hard your body is actually working. And if you’re enjoying your exercise routine, you’re more likely to stick to it and see more results. Concentrating on choreography allows little room for your mind to wander during your workout, allowing you to let go of outside stresses from the day. Having to remember the steps to a routine also boosts brainpower, much more than mindless reps at the gym.

You don’t need a background in dance to learn how to shake it like Bey! Studios all over are picking up on the dance cardio trend, and some even offer classes that are all Beyoncé all the time. Here are some of my favorite classes where you can unleash your inner Bey:

Banana Skirt Productions

Remember back when the most fun you had on a Saturday night was getting your girlfriends together for a sleepover and staying up all night to learn the latest MTV music video moves? Well Banana Skirt promises to be all that and more. It’s a super fun and social dance class where instructors with professional dance backgrounds teach you the choreography to the music video of the moment. The instructors are upbeat and encourage you to move around the class so everyone has their chance to shine front and center. The choreography can be challenging, but is good for all levels. At the end of the class you break up into smaller groups so that you can really perform your heart out and show off your new moves. Added bonus – they provide free bottled water printed with their own cute labels!

Broadway Bodies

Broadway Bodies is known for their Beyoncé class, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself on a waitlist to get in. They are seriously fierce – I even received an email alert yesterday that they were adding an “emergency” class in honor of Bey’s new single dropping. They are all about unleashing your inner superstar as you learn custom choreography to toe-tapping tunes – everything from Broadway to Beyoncé. Though I have yet to get into theBeyoncé class (it’s definitely on my bucket list), the other classes I’ve taken here have broken down the choreography at a fairly slow pace – so great for those who are just starting out.

Vixen Workout

Vixen Workout originated in Miami, so it’s all about creating a club atmosphere with a nightlife vibe, high energy moves and loud, fist-pumping music. They sneak muscle toning movements into easy to learn combinations that are right on the beat. It’s a women’s only workout – the perfect way for non dancers and dancers alike to let loose, forget about daily stresses and channel their pop star alter-ego!

So let’s get up off the couch and dance our way fit! Be sure to tell me about your favorite dance-inspired workouts – I’m always looking for new ones to try!

 

 

Weeknight Kitchen Hack: Super Moist Chicken Breast

We all have those weeknights where we get home super late and still have to scramble to get dinner together. Luckily, as a Newbie Chef, I’m pretty familiar with how to throw together the most basic of meals with the least amount of effort.

On nights when I’ve come home from a long workout and need a hearty, nutrient-packed meal, I go for baked chicken breast. Now, I basically used to be President of the Chicken Fingers Fan Club. I thought chicken that wasn’t breaded and deep fried was just for Grandma!

Suffice it to say, I’ve discovered that oven chicken is not only ridiculously easy to make, but actually tastes amazing. You can pair it with a veggie side dish that slow-simmers or steams while the chicken bakes and you catch u on other things – laundry, dishes, shower, whatever!

Kitchen Hack: Perfect Juicy Oven Poached Chicken with Parchment Paper

Gone are the days of dry, chewy chicken. This chicken is so tender and moist, you won’t even need a knife to cut it.

First tip – Buy organic, cage-free chicken if available. I’ve seen one too many documentaries about Chicken Jail. Picture windowless rooms packed wall-to-wall with obese corn-fed chickens that have lost their ability to even walk. NOT COOL. Chickens that roam free and eat grass and bugs are happy, healthy chickens – which makes a happy, healthy you. Also – it tastes SO MUCH BETTER.

Second tip – Chicken breast doesn’t have a lot of natural fat in it, so it tends to dry out when baking. The solution is to create a sort of ‘false skin’ for the chicken, which helps to keep all the juices inside rather than spilling out and evaporating in your oven. This is called dry poaching, and can be done with Parchment Paper.

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Here’s how to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Pour about 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil into a baking or casserole dish
  3. Wash your boneless skinless chicken breast in room temp water. Pat with paper towel to dry.
  4. Place chicken in dish and rub it around in the oil to spread the oil evenly. Flip it once to coat both sides of the chicken.
  5. Add your seasonings to the chicken. You can pretty much go any direction here. I usually add a hearty squirt of lemon juice. For a kick, try cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, curry or chili powder. Or, go the herbal route with basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
  6. You can also add veggies, onions, apricots, peaches and just about anything to the dish itself.
  7. Once the chicken is seasoned, take a square of parchment paper that’s small enough to fit within the dish. Press the parchment paper into the oily residue at the bottom of the dish to soak it up and coat the paper.
  8. Lay the paper atop the chicken and tuck the edges into the dish.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes and then test with a meat thermometer. Perfect temp is around 170 – 175.
  10. If it needs additional cook, return to the oven without the parchment paper.

In the picture below, I’ve paired my chicken with some super simple steamed brussels sprouts steamed in a microwavable bag. (Added bonus: I was able to use the leftover sprouts as a salad base the next day).

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