Wonder Thighs and Bulging Bi’s (and banana muffins)

Howdy folks. Long time no chat. I’m sure y’all were sitting on the edge of your seats for the past 6 weeks, wondering, “OMGEEEEE WHEN IS AVERAGE2ATHLETE GOING TO WRITE ANOTHER BLOG POST?!?!?!” Well, not to worry because here it is!

It’s actually been a crazy month for me. A few weeks ago, I started as an Assistant Instructor at a place called The Fhitting Room, a boutique studio here in NYC that offers small group circuit training classes – think TRX, kettlebells, dumbbells, rowers, bodyweight exercises and burpees , lots of burpees.

Studio

I’ll go into the studio itself and all of the awesome people there in more detail in a later post, but basically I’m teaching anywhere from 5-10 classes/week – on top of my current job – before work, after work, on the weekends, you name it. I actually wasn’t sure how I would feel about teaching classes, but it turns out that I ABSOLUTELY love it. It’s exhausting, yes. You have to be completely on ALL THE TIME. Especially in such a small studio (classes are 12 people max), clients pick up on every little thing you do.

He changed the music too much, she looked out the window one time, he let the clock run for 50 seconds instead of 45. Woof.

I’m still trying to get the hang of my schedule – balancing 9+ hour days at work, teaching classes and finding time to fit in my own workouts. But when I’m in that room and class starts, that hour flies by and I somehow muster up every last drop of energy I have to scream and jump around. Plus I’m getting to work with some amazing instructors that I’m learning so much from already. It really is a blast. For anyone in the NYC area, I’ll be posting my class schedule here on a weekly basis in case you want to drop for some fun.

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It’s fun to torture train people other than myself.

Long story short, life has been busy. In a good way.

Ok, this is where this post is going to get a little random…this is what happens when I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about body image, and why we have it so engrained in our heads that we have to be so damn THIN. I know the whole mindset now is supposed to be, “strong is the new skinny,” but I still don’t think that the majority of thinking has shifted. And even if it has, when people say “strong” are they really thinking about the amount they can squat? Or are they really thinking “toned,” in which case, the issue is still about body image.

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Pretty sure there’s some airbrushing going on in this picture.

I get caught up in it myself. I preach about focusing on performance goals instead of weight or pant size, but at the same time, I have days where I hate my body, feel like my arms and legs are huge (even if they are muscle) and wish that I could fit into skinny jeans better. I look at pictures and feel like my arms look so much bigger than everyone else’s. I beg my legs to get more definition, my hips to get smaller, my abs to show more.

So what do I do when that happens? Do I hop on the treadmill or the elliptical for hours, trying to burn fat and consequentially burn off the muscle that I worked so hard to gain? Do I drastically cut calories in an effort to lose weight and inevitably screw up my metabolism?

The old me may have done that. But not now. No way. I take a step back, give myself a little slap in the face and tell myself to STOP ACTING LIKE A CRAZY PERSON! I remind myself why I train and why I love it. It’s not to see my legs get smaller or the number on the scale drop. It’s to squat heavier, to do more pull-ups, to jump higher, to run faster. Because those are the things that ultimately make me happy and have and will continue to make me a stronger, more confident person. What is not going to make me happy is trying to fit someone else’s unrealistic standards.

This post from Elisabeth Akinwale sums it up perfectly. She also references the book Bossy Pants, in which Tina Fey spouts out a list of attributes that every girl is supposed to have:

Caucasian blue eyes
Full Spanish lips
A classic button nose
Hairless Asian skin with a California tan
A Jamaican dance hall ass
Long Swedish legs
Small Japanese feet
The abs of a lesbian gym owner
The hips of a nine year old boy
The arms of Michelle Obama
And doll tits

We totally have all those things, right?!

Point is, no more trying to achieve and maintain a body type that is not meant for me. So my legs aren’t as long and lean as I’d like them to be, so what? They’ve gotten me through some tough ass workouts and races and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to show my “wonder thighs” some love! And as for my arms? Well I’ll take the ability to bang out pull-ups and push-ups with the big boys over skinny arms any day!

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We all have those days where we look in the mirror and just don’t like what we see. It happens to everyone. So take a deep breathe and don’t get too caught up in the whole being skinny thing. There are bigger and better things to focus on that will make you a heck of a lot happier.

On that note, I’m going to leave you with a recipe so that you at least walk away feeling like you’ve gotten some useful information out of this post. I made these muffins a couple of weeks ago, thinking they would be a great on-the-go snack for when I need a quick energy fix in between work and teaching class. Well, I forget that when I post baked goods on Instagram, people ask to try them and I have a hard time saying no and the 12 muffins that I made were gone in a day. Needless to say, I’ll be making these again soon…and I will not be posting pictures!

Grain-free Banana Protein Muffins

Makes 12

2 (very) ripe medium bananas
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 scoops vanilla protein powder (I used Oxy-elite Vanilla Icecream)
1 tbsp chia seeds
4 eggs
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (2%)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
Cinnamon/vanilla to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix wet ingredients in blender. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl and pour in wet mixture.

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Spray muffin tin with coconut oil and pour batter into tin.

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Lick bowl.

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Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. I would remove these from the muffin pan before they cool all the way because otherwise they’ll continue baking in the pan and can get dried out.

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Note: Amazing when slathered in almond butter.

Enjoy!


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I Work Out Because __________ .

Why do you exercise?

Is it because you feel like you have to or because you actually enjoy it? Do you have goals? What are they? Aesthetic goals? Health goals? Performance goals?

The reason I ask, other than my general nosiness curiosity, is because the reasons that you choose to exercise can play a huge role in whether or not you stick with it in the long run, and ultimately, it can either prevent you from or enable you to reach your goals.

I’ll start by describing the two types of motivation that continue to drive people to the gym, track, box, studio, garage, or wherever their exercise venue of choice may be.

Motivation Hierarchy

The first is extrinsic motivation. This type of motivation is all about external goals and can include rewards, guilt, coercion and health and social benefits. It is doing things because we feel like we have to in order to achieve some sort of physical or social benefit.

Most people (including myself) begin to exercise because of extrinsic motivation – you want to lose weight for the summer, fit into your jeans, become more attractive, be thin, get abs. Your doctor may have told you that you needed to start exercising for the sake of your health. You may like the fact that exercising allows you to eat more of what you want and not feel guilty. Maybe there’s a cute guy or girl at the gym that you enjoy staring at and hope to have the courage to talk to one day. The list goes on.

You may be thinking, ok, at least I’m getting my butt to the gym. Why does the motivation part matter?

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Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation does not always persist in the long-run. It may get you to the gym, for a bit, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing anything worthwhile during your time there and you may not see the results you want. Or maybe you did get results, but then the summer comes to an end, and somehow your schedule is suddenly too busy to make it to the gym anymore. The fact of the matter is that you’re much more likely to stay motivated and reach your goals if you truly love what you’re doing.

Enter: intrinsic motivation. This type of motivation is based on internal goals. It is the desire to do things because we want to, not because we feel we have to. We exercise because we truly love and enjoy it. Intrinsic motivation is usually tied to a performance goal, like mastering a skill or sport.

But how do you find it? Well, you need to find some form of exercise you actually want to do. A skill or sport that you want to master. You may not know what it is right now, but try a few things out. Work with a trainer. Try out a Crossfit box. Sign up for a Spartan Race or a half marathon or anything that requires you to train for it.

Trust me, I didn’t hop out of bed one day thinking, I want to lift heavy weights! And do double unders and handstand pushups and pull-ups and…no. I just wanted to look good and after doing a ton of cardio and not seeing any sort of change in my body, I was fortunate enough to start working with a trainer who changed my entire outlook on things by making fitness fun and literally introducing me to a whole new world. And that’s when I knew there was no turning back. I was hooked.

Sprawl box jumps

For the first time, a new level of intensity was brought to my workouts, and soon I wasn’t able to settle for anything less. I became motivated to work harder on my own. I wanted to learn new skills and to get stronger because I finally had goals. And those goals were not tied to a number on the scale or a pant size. They were performance goals. And I reached those goals. And I set new ones. And the more I continue to learn about this whole world of fitness and all of the different things I have to learn, the more excited I get to step into the gym each day.

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Why do you think people are so obsessed with Crossfit? Think about it, there are always new skills to learn. New PRs (personal records) to hit. And once you hit those, you set new goals for yourself, and you go after those. You focus on your performance. And guess what? Combined with a little healthy eating, your body changes and you forget about the scale. You’re focused on your goals and one day you look in the mirror and think, “holy crap, where did these muscles come from?!”

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Ok, that was a little bit of an exaggeration. Apologies for the shameless selfie.

But really, I encourage you to find what you love. It might take some exploring, but you’ll never know until you try. I can’t tell you how many people think they could never be into fitness until they’re introduced to it in the right setting and with the right attitude, and then they couldn’t get enough. I’ve been fortunate enough to have someone in my life that has made it fun for me and been a key factor in finding my intrinsic motivation. And there are people, or activities, out there that could do the same for you. You just have to go out there and find them. That’s the first step. The hardest and scariest step. The rest is easy 😉

The Skinny on Post-WOD Eats and the Truth about Protein Powders

I’ve found that there is a lot of confusion around protein powder and its role in fitness and nutrition, especially among women. Many think of protein powder as something only used by body builders and those who want to bulk up. Others might not necessarily be opposed, but have no idea what kind to buy or when to use it. I started drinking whey protein shakes post-workout about 6 months ago, and let me tell you, it has certainly made a difference for me both in recovery time as well as fat loss.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I want to start with a brief discussion on the role of nutrition and its timing in exercise recovery. As we all know, it’s very important to fuel your body post-workout, whether you’re participating in endurance or weight training activities. After we exercise, our bodies go into a catabolic – or “breakdown” – state. The glycogen stores in our muscles are depleted and muscle fibers are broken down. The meal that we eat immediately after exercising can play a large role in restoring energy, repairing muscles, shortening recovery times and even changing body composition.

However, the quality and timing of your post-workout meal is very important.

The Metabolic Window

It has been shown that in order to achieve maximum benefits from exercise, a meal should be eaten no longer than 30-45 minutes after exercise. For those who exercise several times a week, this is especially important for recovery, as it can result in a 4-10 hour recovery period, as opposed to 24-36 hours.

The Optimal Combination

So now that you know when you should eat, you may be wondering what you should eat. While this depends on the type of exercise that you’re doing, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume a mixture of cardio and weight training.

It is important to consume carbohydrates post-exercise, as they play a key role in restoring glycogen in the muscles. However, combining protein with carbs post-exercise boosts glycogen synthesis more than consuming carbs alone and helps to further promote muscle repair. Studies have shown that 0.25-0.5g of protein per pound of lean body mass post-exercise is sufficient. But keep in mind that this varies by person based on their goals and specific nutrition needs.

As a general rule of thumb, the ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio of a post workout meal is 2:1. Here’s a nice little calculator that can help you get an idea of what that translates to (scroll to the bottom).

So any type of carb is ok, right?

Chips

Wrong.

Fast-acting carbs such as fruits are great immediately after a workout because they restore glycogen levels immediately, which aids in recovery. Slow-acting carbs such as sweet potatoes and steel cut oats restore glycogen levels at a slower, steadier rate. A combination of the two is optimal, but not always achievable when trying to stay within the metabolic window. I usually eat a banana immediately after I workout to get something into my body, and then about an hour or so later, I’ll have part of a sweet potato.

Ok, so where does protein powder enter the picture?

If you’re like me and you workout in the morning before heading straight to work (after a shower, I hope), it’s easy for an hour or even two to go by between finishing your workout and actually eating a meal. This is obviously way outside the metabolic window. Protein drinks and shakes are a great way to immediately get some protein into your body post-workout so that you don’t miss the window.  They tend to be low in fat and calories and are easy to make and transport. You just throw a scoop or two of protein powder into your handy dandy blender bottle and add water. I usually eat a banana at the same time, or throw everything together in a blender to make a banana protein shake, which satisfies my carb:protein requirements.

Not all protein is created equal.

So what kind of protein should you buy? With all of the different products on the market, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed when walking into your local Vitamin Shoppe. I found this guide from Muffin Topless on buying protein powders to be very useful. Generally, you’ll want to look at the ingredient list and find one that does not contain excess sugar or harmful chemicals. You’ll also want to watch out for cheap filler ingredients, which may detract from the amount of protein you’re actually getting with each serving.

The most common types of protein include whey, casein and soy. I prefer whey, as it contains a higher level of amino acids and is digested and absorbed more rapidly, producing a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis at rest and after exercise.

Personally, I looooooooooove Protizyme Peanut Butter Cookie. Even mixed with water, it still tastes incredible. Blended with a banana and almond milk, you have yourself a peanut butter shake!

Protizyme

Whey is derived from milk, so if you’re lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, soy protein is another option, although I’m not familiar enough on the topic to speak to it. There are also other sources such as pea and rice protein.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the stigma of protein powders, especially for you ladies out there! No need to be intimidated by protein shakes. Drink up!

Now I’m off to the gym for an ass-kicking followed by my own protein shake…

As always, comment if you have any questions!

Julia

Let’s get personal. Then eat some meatloaf.

The other day someone asked me, How long did it take you to get into the shape you’re in now?

Well, I wasn’t really sure how to answer that. I guess I had never really thought about it that way. For me, getting “in shape” is a continuous journey with no clear end in sight. I can always be faster, get stronger, jump higher. But I know this hasn’t always been my way of thinking. I’ve gone through several different mindsets when it comes to fitness. And several ups and downs.

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So how did I get to where I am today? When did working out stop becoming a chore and start becoming something I look forward to each day? Well, to answer that,  I’m going to tell you a little story about a few key influencers that have shaped me (pun intended) into the person that I am today.

Apologies in advance for such a lengthy post…

Influencer #1: The Gymnast

I honestly don’t even remember how I got into gymnastics. I always just assumed that cartwheeling and flipping and jumping around was just something that every little kid did. And I was obsessed with Mary Lou Retton. I wrote every report on her in elementary school. Dressed up like her on “Famous Person’s Day.” I wanted to train with Béla Károlyi one day. You get the picture…

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Every day after school, I would put on my leotard and be carted off to the gym for practice, which consisted of about 3 hours of stretching, skill work and conditioning. Then on Saturday morning I was back in the gym for more practice. When I went on vacation, I was given conditioning lists so that I could stay in shape while I was gone, which I obviously hated. Ironically, those lists look very similar to the types of workouts I do today – push-ups, jumps, squats, lunges, handstand push-ups, sit-ups, planks.

Needless to say, by the time I got to middle school, I was pretty burnt out and decided it was time to throw in the towel. I obviously wasn’t going to make it to the Olympics, and I wanted whatever social life I was missing out on as a 12 year old. Had I known what was about to happen to my body, I may have reconsidered that decision. The year that I quit, I grew four inches and gained at least 25 pounds. For the first time in my life, I hated my body. I felt short, stalky and chubby, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

Cheerleading

8th Grade Cheerleading

I wish I had better pictures from these days but unfortunately they are all stuffed away in boxes in Houston. Next time I’m home, I will dig them up and post a few, I promise…

Influencer #2: The Rugby Player

Luckily, I was still playing sports – volleyball, soccer and cheerleading – so I eventually adjusted to my new body. However, after quitting organized sports for good my sophomore year of high school, I noticed myself gaining some weight and joined a gym for the first time. I went through the usual introductory session with a trainer, learned how to use the elliptical and the weight machines, and while I rarely touch the weight machines today, this period served as my introduction to weight lifting. I noticed myself developing some muscle tone and losing some weight. However, I started to get bored with my little weight circuit and noticed myself starting to plateau.

It wasn’t until I joined a new gym and met Kenneth, who showed me a different way of working out – using free weights, the Bosu, medicine balls and interval training – that I really began to notice a difference in my body. Moreover, this way of exercising was way more fun than sitting mindlessly on the weight machines repeating rep after rep. I began incorporating what he taught me into my own workouts, and I also started reading magazines and coming up with my own exercises and routines. This is when I realized how much I loved fitness (and some might say, when I started to become a “gym rat”). I will always have Kenneth to think for that 🙂

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Kenneth conquering the muscle up

Influencer #3: The Sergeant

The summer before going off to college, I did my first Bootcamp. A friend of mine had done it as part of his preparation before going off to the Naval Academy and knew it would be something I’d love. Just to clarify, we’re not talking Barry’s Bootcamp with air conditioning, music and a peppy dude with a headset leading the class. Think muddy field, 5:30am, dark, 95+ degree temperatures and 100% humidity (Houston in July). There was a lot of yelling, a lot of mud and a lot of pain. Bootcamp was led by a former Army Sargeant  named Jay, who screamed more than anyone I’ve ever met. There was no equipment necessary – just pushups, sit-ups, burpees, jumping jacks, sprints – you get the picture. At the end of Bootcamp, we completed the Army Physical Fitness Test to measure our progress: as many push-ups as possible in 90 seconds, as many sit-ups as possible in 90 seconds and a timed 2-mile run. I was very proud to score a 300, the highest possible score! I was shocked with my progress. There was no going back now.

Influencer #4: The Runn

Then I went to college. While I did continue my workout regime, I fell victim to the temptations of the unlimited Freshman meal plan as well as binge drinking and the late night and hungover junk food that comes along with it. I came home the summer after Freshman year very upset with myself about the weight I had gained and immediately put myself on a restricted diet. I lost weight, was back to my normal fit size by the time I returned sophomore year, only to repeat the process all over again. It wasn’t until my junior year of college, when I lived in my own apartment and was able to make my own food that I finally felt in control of my health.

However, I still felt that I needed some sort of fitness goal to work towards. Growing up, I watched my mom run every day, whether she was training for a marathon or just going for a jog to get away from the rest of us. I knew it must be great for you because my mom was in amazing shape, but I just thought it was torture. Maybe because it is used as a form of torture when you’re playing sports. Or maybe because Houston is just so damn hot that doing anything outside just seems insane.

Mom

Mom after hitting a new PR during the 10k Turkey Trot in Houston

Well to my surprise, and thanks to the beautiful backdrop of North Carolina and the Duke campus, I started to enjoy running once I got to college. So at the end of junior year, a few friends and I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for our first half marathon senior year of college in Virginia Beach, VA. I trained all summer long and when the big day came I had a great run and was hooked. I finally knew what my mom had been raving about all these years. This was the first time since quitting sports at 15 that I had a goal to work towards and I loved it. I decided to sign up for the Houston half marathon the following January. And two more after that.

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After the 2010 Houston Half Marathon

Influencer #5: The Fighter

Please excuse me for getting sentimental in these next two sections. Feel free to scroll to the recipe at the bottom if I get to mushy for you…

While I still loved running, I started to get bored, particularly after I moved to NYC and found that the places to run were limited and repetitive. I also started to suffer from some nagging injuries, most likely due to the same repetitive movement of running. I still lifted weights in the gym, but I felt like I was in a rut. I was plateauing. I was always tired. I was overtraining. I needed to set some new goals.

That’s when I met Dennys. I was apprehensive to start training with him at first, mostly because if you’ve ever seen the cost of a personal trainer in NYC, you know it’s insanely expensive. But, I knew I needed that extra motivation to pull me out of my rut, so I decided that there were probably a few things in my life I could sacrifice for the sake of fitness (little did I know this would become my motto in life). Plus, how could I not be motivated by this?!

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For the sake of not turning this blog post into a novel, I’ll try to keep the rest of this short. Since I began training with Dennys over 2 years ago, he’s taught me how to be a badass. In other words, he taught me to stop training like a little girl and start lifting like a boss. I learned all about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), how to use kettlebells, TRX training, Olympic lifting and so much more.

And the best part was, not only did he just tell me what to do each session, he told me why we were doing it. He wanted me to learn. For the first time, I felt accountable and I wanted to make the most out of my time with Dennys. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was working towards at the time, I just knew I wanted to get faster and stronger. Basically, I knew I wanted to be as awesome as him.

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48″ box jump

If it weren’t for Dennys, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. His outlook on life and drive to positively impact the lives of others, inspires me to strive to do the same each and every day. And I am forever grateful for that.

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Influencer #6: The Girls

Finally, there are my “swollmates.”

First, there’s Kayte, my blogger-in-crime. Without her, I would not have had the motivation to actually get my butt in gear and start this blog. She has also inspired me to get back into gymnastics.

Then there’s Nicole. Dennys introduced me to Nicole as another one of his clients. I immediately recognized how awesome she was and knew I needed to befriend her. She’s an allstar athlete (Penn State Women’s bball star!) and one of the strongest and most positive people I’ve ever met. And a great workout partner!

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Last but not least, there’s Emily. I also met Emily through Dennys (like I said, I don’t know where I would be without that guy!), and I am so thankful for that introduction. She is incredibly supportive and always willing to listen to my “problems”, regardless of how silly they may be. She also won’t hesitate to put me in my place if I’m being a twit, which happens often. Oh, and did I mention she’s a total beast?

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32″ box jump!

It is so important to surround yourself with people who support you in reaching your goals, and these girls have done just that. They motivate me to get my butt into gear each and every day!

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Back to the Present

So I guess that was a long-winded answer to a simple question, but I feel like it paints a pretty good picture of how I got to where I am today. Working out is no longer a chore, it’s something I enjoy. Not only because it relieves stress and gives me energy, but because each workout is an opportunity to become stronger, faster and hone my skills. In a way, I feel like I’m back where I was as a 6 year old gymnast because my training actually has a purpose. I can’t stress how much focusing my goals around performance has totally changed my outlook on fitness. As soon as I stopped focusing my fitness goals around my body image and more around athletic performance (combined with clean eating, of course), the physical appearance part took care of itself.

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If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I think you deserve a recipe. So I give you turkey meatloaf.

Turkey Meatloaf

Recipe adapted from paleOMG and Fed & Fit.

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Loaf:

1 lb ground turkey

1 small yellow onion, chopped

½ bell pepper, chopped

½ cup fresh tomato, chopped

¼ cup almond meal/coconut flour (optional)

1 egg

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt/pepper/any other seasonings of choice to taste

Sauce:

½ jar Rao’s Homeade Marinara Sauce or other organic tomato sauce

½ can tomato paste

3 tbsp grainy/spicy mustard

2 tbps balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Combine all loaf ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix (use your hands!) until well combined. Add mixture into 2 mini loaf pans, 1 large loaf pan or form a loaf on a turkey roasting pan. Bake in oven for 25 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix all ingredients for the sauce together. After the loaf is done baking, remove from oven and turn the heat up to 450. “Ice” the loaf with the tomato sauce mixture, covering all sides (or just the top if you’re using a loaf pan). Once the oven has reached 450, place the loaf back in the oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. When finished, the tomato sauce should form a thick “icing” on top of the loaf.

Let cool for a few minutes, then dig in! Great for leftovers too 🙂

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Have a great weekend, y’all!

Julia

Keep Calm, Lift Heavy and Eat Turkey Burgers

In my previous post, I debunked a few of the myths around women and weight lifting. As a follow up, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the benefits of strength training and share a few tips on how to get started.

As you may have noticed from my workouts, Crossfit and HIIT (high intensity interval training) are my exercise forms of choice, and here’s why (on a completely personal level):

It feels pretty badass to be able to lift a barbell over my head while squatting, flip a tire that is 2x my body weight, jump onto a box that is more than half my height and hold my own on the pull-up bar, to name a few.

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It’s an awesome feeling to watch myself getting stronger. When I think about where I was 5 years, 1 year, even 6 months ago, I’m always amazed at how far I’ve come and what my body can do.

It puts me in “the zone.” While I’m doing a workout, I’m focused on counting my reps and nothing else. Unlike long distance running or any other form of steady state exercise, your mind doesn’t have time to wander. All other stress is temporarily forgotten because you’re 100% in the moment.

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I love efficiency. We’re all busy and no one has time to spend hours on end in the gym. Well, when you combine lifting heavy weights with sprints, rowing, jump roping and burpees, you don’t need to.

I love the feeling of being so wiped out that you’re not sure if you can even make it to the shower. You just don’t get that from anything else, in my opinion.

By setting goals for myself, I never get bored. Whether it’s a new PR on a certain lift, mastering handstand push-ups or increasing my max rep pull-ups, there’s always a new challenge to work towards.

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It’s not the worst thing in the world to have people stop you in the grocery store and ask, “Do you do Crossfit?”  Yes, this happened to me today.

I love muscles. I think it’s a sign of hard work and dedication. How can you not respect girls who looks like this?

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Or this?

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Despite my passion for Crossfit, I know it’s not the only form of effective strength training and I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s the end all be all. Everyone has different goals and preferences, and it’s important to find a type of exercise that makes you happy.

However, I am going to continue to encourage all of you to strength train. Why? You’ll gain muscle and lose fat, among many other things. You’ll also reduce your risk of injury by strengthening your bones and joints and doing full body movements that compliment each other. Your metabolism will thank you as well. At rest, muscle burns more calories than fat, so by increasing your lean muscle mass, you’re increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of calories that you would burn if you were to lay down, without sleeping, for 24 hours. You’re also going to be more efficient when you workout and will not feel the need to spend at a time at the gym, sweating profusely but seeing minimal results.

To some, the thought of strength training may seem daunting because they don’t know where to begin. Well, everyone has to start somewhere. My first introduction to strength training was sitting on the weight machines and going through the prescribed circuit at my gym. I then started incorporating free weights and used magazines to learn other, more creative exercises. Finally, I was introduced to Crossfit.

So, here are a few tips I have for those new to the world of strength training:

Join a gym or create a space at home. If you are working out at home, purchase the correct equipment. I recommend Again Faster.

Know your body and be aware of any past injuries that you may have. However, don’t create an injury in your head and use it as an excuse for not doing certain exercises. Excuses will get you nowhere.

Start with the basics and learn proper form. Sign up for a few intro sessions with personal trainer, find out if your gym offers introductory kettlebell or TRX courses, take a fundamentals course at a Crossfit box or watch YouTube videos.

Start with the appropriate weight. When that becomes too easy, make it heavier. You should always feel challenged if you want to see progress. Just make sure that you’re not sacrificing your form for the heavier weight.

BREATHE.

When creating workouts, think about your full body. Create “circuits” that include legs, arms and core, rather than devoting your entire workout to one muscle group.

Don’t repeat the same thing every time you work out. Even though there are going to be some exercises that you like more than others, you will only see results if you challenge yourself. If you feel like you’re plateauing, consider changing things up.

Just remember, it doesn’t matter where you’re starting in your fitness journey. What matters is that you set goals and make a plan to reach them. Success doesn’t happen overnight, but consistently putting in the work and continuing to challenge yourself will lead to results. Just keep going!

And now and I will leave you with my turkey slider recipe…

Turkey Sliders

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1 lb lean ground turkey

1 cup spinach, chopped

½ onion

Garlic powder, pepper and rosemary to taste (sorry, I didn’t measure)

1-2 large sweet potatoes

Plain Greek yogurt

Chili pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400. Slice sweet potatoes into spheres. Line cookie sheet with foil and place potato spheres onto foil. Spray with coconut oil/olive oil or fat of choice. Place in the oven and let bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, flip, and bake for another 10 minutes.

While the potatoes are baking, make the sliders. Combine turkey, spinach, onion and seasonings in a bowl. Heat a greased skillet over medium heat. Form small patties with your hands and place onto skillet. Once turkey is browned on the bottom, flip. Once burger is cooked all the way through, remove. Continue until you’ve used up the turkey mixture.

Place turkey patty on sweet potato sphere. Mix plain Greek yogurt with chili pepper flakes to create a “sauce.” Spread sauce onto burger and top with a second sweet potato sphere.

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I paired mine with a small salad of spinach, grape tomatoes, avocado and olive tapenade.

Enjoy!

~ Julia

Strong is the New Skinny. And Oodles of Zoodles!

As anyone who follows us on Facebook or Instagram already knows, this past weekend, Kayte and I competed in the Civilian Military Combine in NYC on the US Intrepid. It was a truly awesome experience and we’ll be writing a full post on it later this week, but for now I couldn’t resist at least sharing a picture of our amazing team.

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Team Sparta!

One of the coolest things about this event was getting to see all of the kickass women out there. Out of 482 total participants, 188 were female. That’s about 40% – not too shabby! I think a lot of this can be contributed to the huge growth of Crossfit, which has been attracting more and more women over the past couple of years.

 However, despite this tremendous growth, there is still a lot of convincing to be done when it comes to getting women to even pick up and weight. And I don’t mean grabbing two 5-pound dumbbells and doing a few bicep curls and maybe a couple of lunges. I’m talking challenging weight. Weight that is actually hard.

But why? There are pictures of strong women with awesome physiques all over the media, and trust me, they did not get their bodies purely by doing cardio and starving themselves. I guarantee you that even your favorite spin instructor with the awesome bod did not get her “toned” arms from spinning alone. So why do women need so much convincing when it comes to lifting weights?

Well, I’ll begin with a couple of misconceptions that are unfortunately all too common and continue to keep women isolated to the cardio machines…

1.       Lifting weights will make you bulky.  This is simply not true. Women do not have enough testosterone in their bodies to bulk up. The bodybuilders that you see that look “manly” do not get that way from lifting weights alone. They are either taking some sort of supplements, or they are part of the 1% of the female population that is able to bulk up like men. Some women might say they naturally get bulky when they lift, but this is probably due more to diet and a higher percentage of body fat than it is to the amount of muscle they’re carrying.

 Often when I talk about wanting to get stronger or be able to lift heavier, people reply with, “but aren’t you afraid of getting bulky?” Well, I am currently stronger and can lift more than I’ve ever been able to in my life, and I would consider myself the “leanest” that I’ve ever been as well. Why? Because most of the extra “bulk” that I carried was actually fat, not muscle mass! And if you’re reading this and thinking that I’m bulky, then we can have a separate conversation about that later 😉

 I think Dwight sums it up best:

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 2.       Cardio is the best way to burn fat. Don’t get me wrong, cardio is important. It’s a great way to get your heart rate up, build endurance and can burn a ton of calories while you’re actually doing it. And I’m really not saying to forget about it, I just think it’s overdone. Just because you are sweating bullets does not necessarily mean that you’re burning more fat. Anyone who has lifted weights at high intensity can tell you they felt just as fatigued, if not more, than they would have from doing cardio for that same amount of time.

 Unfortunately, many women get discouraged when they first start lifting because they notice their legs/shoulders/arms getting bigger and their weight going up, and they decide to throw in the towel and resort back to purely cardio. What they don’t realize is that their bodies have started building muscle (hence the weight gain), but they haven’t necessarily started to burn the fat on top of that muscle yet. However, as that lean muscle mass continues to increase, body fat will start to decrease (assuming they are also eating well) and that newly formed muscle will start to show!

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These next two aren’t as much misconceptions as they are additional comments that you often here in regards to weight lifting…

 3.      But I just want to tone my arms. Well, any decent trainer will tell you that you cannot target fat loss. You will lose fat wherever there is fat to lose. Just like people carry their fat in different places, people lose fat differently as well, and unfortunately, this is not something that you can control. So the only way that you’re going to “tone” any part of your body is going to be by lifting weights to build muscle, and simultaneously decreasing body fat so that your muscle will show. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to target certain muscle groups, but it won’t matter if you have fat on top of them.

 4. I don’t care about muscle, I just want to be skinny. We’ve all heard the term “skinny fat.” While I don’t think that anyone wants to think they fall into that bucket, there are always going to be people who are naturally skinny and don’t care about being strong or having muscle. Well, obviously everyone has different end goals when it comes to fitness, but there are several reasons beyond aesthetics that being “skinny fat” can ultimately be hazardous to one’s health. Rather than going into detail on the topic in this post, I’ll let the good people at Tabata Times do it for me.

 So, now that I’ve convinced you all to start lifting weights (right?), you’re wondering where to start. I would say second to being afraid of bulking up, simply not knowing what to do when it comes to weight is the next biggest deterrent to women. Well, stay tuned for an upcoming post on weight lifting tips for beginners!

 In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my “zoodle” recipe!

 Zoodles and Meatballs

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Zoodles

 1 zucchini

 1 Julienne peeler (I bought mine on Amazon to save a few bucks)

Nomnom Paleo (another awesome blog you should check out for yummy, clean recipes) explains zoodle preparation way better than I can.

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Zoodles

You can either pop them in the microwave or sautee them to get them warm. I like mine with a bit of a crunch to them.

Turkey Artichoke Meatballs

 1 lb lean ground turkey

1 can artichokes, chopped

½ onion, chopped

1 cup spinach, chopped

Seasoning of choice (I used garlic, basil and red pepper flakes)

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix chopped vegetables and turkey in a bowl. Roll turkey/veggie mixture into balls and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 30 minutes or until turkey is thoroughly cooked.

Marinara Sauce

 ½ jar of natural marinara sauce (ingredients should be tomatoes and seasonings, for the most part)

½ bell pepper, chopped

½ onion, chopped

Basil

Black pepper

 Grease skillet and add onion and bell pepper. Sautee until onions are translucent, then add sauce. Add basil and pepper and stir. Cover and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

When sauce is finished, pour over zoodles and add a few meatballs. They even twist around a fork just like noodles!

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Have an awesome week!

 Julia