Ask Amanda: Oiled Up & Ready

Every now and then, ThisFitBlonde takes a break from yakkin’ about fitness (my first love) to talk about nutrition (my…life partner?).

A quick disclaimer, for the sake of my clinical (and wayyyyyy more well-qualified) friends: I am a certified sports nutritionist, which means that I have the necessary background and examinations to advise clients on what types of foods to eat to better their athletic and fitness performance.

I am not a registered dietitian (R.D.), which is a health professional that has completed a relevant bachelor’s degree, done countless hours in a supervised and accredited practice program, and passed a (very challenging) national examination.  Whew.

That said, I do feel qualified to offer an informed opinion on certain nutritional topics – and which oils are best to use while cooking is one of them.  A lot of clients of mine “default” to olive oil because they’ve heard it’s healthy; some use coconut oil on everything because they’ve heard it’s even better; even others spend a fortune on avocado or hempseed oil because it sounds a bit fancier, or maybe because they think it boasts a higher smoke point.

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Sound familiar?

I want to clear up some of the pros and cons on different oils and offer my professional opinion – both in terms of health and performance – on which ones you should be using.  For those of you who are already bored of this post, print out this easy-to-read guide – it’ll give you the down low in one quick visual you can post on your fridge.

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OLIVE.  This is basically your #1 best all-around oil – it’s high in the good fats, low in the dangerous ones, tastes delicious, delivers on the flavonoids, tastes good in dressings and is pretty useful for cooking.  Higher quality olive oils are bought in tins or dark glass bottles, not clear ones, and extra virgin (versus regular olive oil) has a stronger flavor.

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COCONUT.  I’m talking unrefined (the type that’s solid at room temp) and virgin, as the other types (read: cheap) are definitely not healthy to ingest.  High in the good saturated fat (lauric acid), low in the bad ones, superb as a butter substitute in baking and fabulous for cooking Asian cuisine (for flavor) and cooking in general (for its high smoke point).

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GRASS FED BUTTER.  Please don’t ignore those two words in front of the yummy word “butter” because they do matter – and ghee, or clarified butter, also counts here.  Real, honest butter has a ton of Vitamin A, E, and K2, and if you’re using the clarified sort, it doesn’t burn when cooking (since clarifying removes the lactose and proteins).  Plus, um, did you realize that BUTTER IS OF COURSE THE MOST DELICIOUS?!?!?

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HEMPSEED.  It’s basically the same as olive oil in its health properties, but with the added benefit of having the type of Omega-6 fatty acid that acts as an anti-inflammatory, which we can all use.  Hempseed oil has also been shown to have an anti-clotting effect on the blood – but this one is best used for dressings and cold foods, as heating hempseed oil changes its nutritional composition somewhat significantly.

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OILS TO AVOID.  I’ve just highlighted the ones I’d recommend to clients, but in general, you’re going to want to avoid this (shockingly) long list for any sort of long-term use (as in, fine for the occasional dose of Grandma’s Christmas cookies but not ideal for everyday cooking): soybean, palm, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, pumpkin seed, margarine, lard.  These contain way too much Omega-6 (bad) fat and not enough Omega-3 (good) fatty acids to make ’em worth your while, and some are also high in saturated and trans fats to boot.

All this talk about oil is making me hungry – and making me think I’ll need to add a follow up post about one my favorite nutrition myths to debunk – that FAT doesn’t actually make you fat, and OILS are actually a wonderful part of a healthy diet!  But until next time, readers…

What’s your favorite oil to use for cooking, baking, or just a good old-fashioned bread dip?

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Ask Amanda: Stretching, The Truth

I talk a lot about fitness on this blog, and truth be told, I talk a lot about the “hardcore” type of fitness.  I tell you to lift (heavy) weights, do HIIT, check out a killer interval class, try some circuit training, and attempt all sorts of other sporty stuff – some of which, admittedly, I know may be intimidating for a lot of you lovely readers out there.

So today, let’s shift gears.  Downshift, more specifically.

I want to talk about one of the most ignored components of a holistically fit lifestyle – flexibility.  So many of us (*pointing finger directly at self*) eschew stretching almost entirely in favor of strength, speed, power, agility, endurance – basically any other type of training besides the kind that actually does the most long-term good (d’oh).

Flexibility training is like boiled brussels sprouts for serious fitness freaks.  We all acknowledge that we need to keep it in the regular rotation, and we’ll even tell other people they should include it, but truth be told, we rarely commit to it ourselves.  Do as I say, not as I do – and I am one of the guiltiest of all when it comes to this fitness sin.

There was a time – granted, it seems like a lifetime ago – when I was doing yoga religiously, 2-3 times per week.  I had a Bikram phase (ended abruptly by the fact that Bikram himself is a giant a*shole who deserves zero dollars from any thinking person), a Kundalini phase (summary: lots of chanting), a restorative phase (aka “assisted sleep”), a basic bitch power yoga phase, and even a wonderful (if far too short-lived) running-plus-yoga phase called Detox/Retox wherein you ran two miles, did 90 minutes of Vinyasa flow, and got a free beer afterwards.

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Long story short, I am no stranger to the concept of stretching.  I simply don’t do it anymore.  And at age 33, I am quickly losing the luxury of being able to do such a thing.

A loyal reader asked me what the most “important” types of stretches are, and I figured I’d use our little space this week to not only answer that question, but also give you an insight into what types of stretches I utilize with my own personal training clients and why I really do believe – despite my own shortcomings – that stretching matters.

Stretching can relieve stress, decrease the risk of injury, improve energy flow, increase range of motion and athletic performance, encourage better circulation, reduce chronic pain, and even help to manage cholesterol levels.  Stretching after workouts reduces inflammation and soreness and makes it easier to continue being active the next day – important stuff for those of us who don’t like to take a “DOMS day” off.

But let’s be real – all of that is well and good, but when you only have 5 minutes to soak in all those amazing benefits, how should you spend your sacred stretch time?

First of all, attack them hammies.  If you sit a lot, your hamstrings are probably tight.  If you run a lot, your hamstrings are probably tight.  If you lift a lot, your hamstrings are probably tight.  Sense a theme?  I like to get my clients into a supine position, have them hold a towel or band, and lift one leg, knee straight, through their reasonable range of motion, as shown below:

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This is a reasonable range of motion for her – but like, not me.

Next, loosen those glutes.  Your backside is the biggest muscle group in the body, which means it holds the key to a lot of lower body tightness and imbalance.  When I’m with a client, I’ll assist their supine stretch (pic below), but if you’re on your own, why not take the glorious opportunity to drop into a pigeon pose and completely bliss out for a minute?  Yasssss.

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Third on the docket is a nice juicy hip stretch.  Women especially hold a lot of stress and pain in our hips, and the mere structure of men’s narrow hips means they are typically tight – good reasons both to ease yourself into the aggressive-but-effective lizard lunge:

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Fourth, if you’ve been squatting, kicking, or just doing a lot of anterior-chain work, it’s worth a quick run through the quads.  Side lying stretches can be really effective here (right pic below), as can assisted prone stretching with a trainer (left pic below), and both types give a little extra bonus length to your lower back, which no one is mad at.

Speaking of that lower back, if you’re already down on the ground, you may as well roll your spine into some gentle twists.  Twisting in yoga is considered detoxifying in and of itself (think of the concept of wringing out a rag in relation to getting rid of pain and waste) and damn it, it feels amazing:

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Finally, don’t forget that upper bod – the back and shoulders are the two areas most likely to be carrying most of your tension up there, and they’re easily and effectively stretched with an arm-linked forward fold (just hold opposite elbows if you can’t link your hands):

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Knees slightly bent, please.

 

 

There are, of course, a million more muscle groups to stretch and even more ways to stretch them – but the point of this little piece was to highlight the most important ones, give you some guidelines for stretching alone or with your trainer, and remind you that yes, flexibility is just as vital and important a marker of fitness as all that other fancy jazz I talk about here on the ol’ blog – so stay well, TFB-ers, and let’s get bendy in 2017!

What are your favorite feel-good stretches?  Do you make time for flexibility in your routine?

Ask Amanda: Bulletproofing Your Bod

First of all, welcome to 2017, loyal readers!  Some of us (cough, nearly all of us, especially if you live in the United States) had a rough n’ tumble 2016, and it’s time to forget all that jazz and look ahead, hopefully and with determination, to absolutely KILLING IT this year.

Problem is, it’s tough to get out there and kill it if you’re kicking off 2017 sneezing and wheezing like a used pair of bagpipes.

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January brings us many things in the fitness industry.  On the good side, packed-out gyms are full of eager beginners looking to make a lasting lifestyle change.  On the bad side, overcrowded facilities are stuffed full of sniffling half-sick lumps of humanity spreading their germs all over the place.

Ick.

It’s the perfect storm of a lot of people coming together in a naturally fluid-filled (think lots of dirt, sweat and maybe even a few tears) environment during a particularly virus-friendly time of year, and contagious illnesses do tend to abound during these early winter months.

So what can you do to boost your immune system and, as I like to say, bulletproof yourself against the common viruses that seem to take out half your office this time of year?

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First and perhaps most obvious of all, commit to an almost-OCD level of hand washing.  If you touch something that anyone else has touched (an elevator button, a dumbbell, a computer key, a phone), don’t you dare touch your mouth, nose or eyes until you wash those filthy hands.  After I’m done working with a client, I scrub like a doctor going into the OR before I even think about handling my phone, computer, or god forbid, FOOD.

Second, and easier said than done, get regular and ample sleep.  7-9 hours is the recommended amount for active adults; you may need slightly more or less based on your individual lifestyle.  Studies show that people who don’t sleep normally or adequately get sick, and people who get enough sleep have stronger immune systems overall (and are less likely to be obese, which is a story for another time).

Third, as the wise Hippocrates famously said, “let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.”  What he meant is that you can actually protect your physical health simply by eating a nutritious, balanced diet (some of the top choices to include in your everyday diet include citrus fruit, broccoli, ginger, garlic, almonds, and papaya).  As for the more “advanced” immunity-boosting foods, consider:

  • Fermented foods (think sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, miso, and kefir) go a long way in providing healthy probiotic bacteria
  • Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a compound that converts in the body to a compound similar to breast milk (and we know how good THAT stuff is!)
  • Berries have super-high antioxidant capacities (bonus for wild blueberries, top notch) and powerful phytochemicals, without the sugar of comparable fruits
  • Green tea (especially when made from quality matcha) has nearly 17 times the antioxidants of the aforementioned berries and 7 times more than dark chocolate, plus a nice hot cup can feel great on a sore throat and give you a little energy boost, too

And finally – what kind of trainer would ThisFitBlonde be without a summary mention of exercise as an immunity-boosting tool?  Getting your heart rate up and breathing more heavily can literally help flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, and some studies show that exercise causes certain beneficial changes to your white blood cells (the body’s disease-fighting cells).  It can also relieve stress (a major factor in propensity for common colds, flus, and illnesses) and make you feel better overall, even if battling a little sniffle.

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Whenever I have a new client that tells me they’re the type to “always get sick,” I have to have a little chuckle, because I know that we can start them on a positive chain of wellness responses – regular exercise leads to better sleep quality, better sleep leads to a stronger immune system, a stronger immune system leads to less fatigue and days off due to illness – the benefit list goes on, and it all starts with just a few dietary additions and strong sessions in the gym.

What are your best at-home or natural remedies for the winter sniffs and sneezes?