Derailing Your Health One Sip at a Time: Part Uno

What’s your poison!? Soda, ‘pop’, soda-pop, Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, Mountain Dew, diet Coke? There’s a wide variety of other brands and flavors to choose from including the cheaper, generic, store brands all the way up to expensive name brands that are sweetened with 100% cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  And, guess what?  They’re all just as bad for your body. 

Let’s look at some of the detriments of drinking soda.

Due to the sugars, carbon dioxide, and acids used in the manufacturing of soda, drinking it can lead to tooth decay, fat gain, diseases such as Type II diabetes and cancer, bone loss/osteoporosis, digestion upsets, heartburn, and even addiction (come on you Coke addicts…we know you’re out there lurking in the shadows).

The first part of your body to come into contact with soda is your mouth…including your teeth.  According to the Journal of Zhejiang University Science (2009), “acids and sugars [in soda] have both acidogenic and cariogenic potential, resulting in dental caries and potential enamel erosion,…[and] excessive intake of soft drinks…causes complex dental consequences including dental erosion and caries... [it] is necessary to educate patients about the harmful effects of excessive soft drink consumption.”

Want a gleaming grill? Cut out that sugar bath you’re soaking your teeth in every time you consume soda!

In addition to leaving you with a few holes in your mouth, sugar—especially when it’s mainlined into the body via soda—can quickly help you gain a few extra pounds of fat. Because soda lacks any fiber, fat, or protein to slow the rush of sugar into the bloodstream, your body quickly works to remove the excess sugar from your blood so you don’t pass out or die.

 “[Sugar] is a source of fuel, however too much is toxic to the body…the body actually works very hard to get it out of the bloodstream quickly because of this very fact... [and] the bloodstream can only handle about 5 grams of [sugar] at any one time, which is equal to 1 teaspoon...,” (Divine Health from the Inside Out, 2012).

Please notice on the nutrition label to the left, that a 12-oz can of Coca-Cola Classic has 39 grams of sugar(!)…that’s almost 8 times the amount that can be swimming around in your blood stream before you get toxic and other things even worse than weight gain occur--namely, death.

In order to keep you from keeling over in front of your TV, the body quickly gets the excess sugar out of your blood stream.  And, if you’ve already had too many carbohydrates and sugars that haven’t been used up, guess where the body sends that excess sugar from the soda you just drank. Most likely, straight to your booty and thighs if you’re a female, and probably to your gut if you’re a male.

Now, not only are you potentially toothless, you’re gaining weight in the form of fat.

In addition, to causing fat gain, mainlining sugar into your system also makes you less likely to use that sugar via movement and exercise because of the fatigue and energy slumps that occur after your body has dealt with the bloodstream issue…this phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “crash” after the sugar high. 

So, now, you’re toothless, fat, and tired, and grasping for another can of soda in the hopes of gaining a shot of caffeine and a pop of energy to “pick you back up.” And, here we enter the vicious cycle of sugar highs and lows.

At least you’re disease-free, right?  Well, things could get a whole lot worse.

We already know that too much sugar can lead to Type II Diabetes, which eventually could lead to the loss of your feet, legs, and possibly your life.  But that’s not the worst of it.  According to Elissa Epel, PhD and professor of psychiatry at UCSF:

The length of telomeres within white blood cells…has previously been associated with human lifespan. Short telomeres…have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues.”

In short, there are several studies that associate drinking soda with the development of cancer.

Toothless, fat, tired, and now, suffering from disease…shall I proceed?

Your body needs adequate dietary calcium to build and maintain strong bones, and a harmful effect of soda pop with caffeine can be weaker bones. According to the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center, “caffeine {such as that found in many soft drinks) can reduce the amount of calcium that your body absorbs from food. Over time, this could lead to osteoporosis and a high risk for bone fractures.”

Creaking bones, cracking hips, no teeth, overweight, tired, and possibly suffering from a disease such as diabetes or cancer…man, that soda sure does taste good though, don’t it?

OK, ok, ok…let’s say, overall, you’re a healthy individual who eats sensibly and moves your body regularly.  Well, if you’re working hard in the gym to gain strength, to improve your athleticism, or to just generally to be a healthier person, soda can really stunt your progress. According to the Mayo Clinic, “added sugars do not add vitamins and minerals, and only provide calories.” In order to participate in high impact exercise and to make progress, we need adequate nutrition without excess calories.  If you are a woman, and you drink 3 sodas a day, you’ve just ingested 420 calories! That might be almost a third of your entire calorie allotment for a day, depending upon your size, goals, and exercise habits.

So, even if you weren’t toothless, fat, brittle-boned, and tired before, you now have a more difficult time sustaining your healthy lifestyle due to a lack of proper nutrients, which can lead to malnourishment and excess stress on your body. Excess stress is also linked with weight gain, fatigue, digestive upsets, and disease…but, at least you still got your teeth, right?  Or…should I say…tooth?

In addition to the harm that drinking soda does to our bodies, supporting the soda industry via purchasing and consuming their products is harmful to the environment.  According to the Wall Street Journal, it takes “as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda.”  That’s a LOT of water for 8 servings of soda.  Furthermore, soda is full of chemicals that are hurtful to both our bodies and this earth.  According to Dr. Josh Axe, the following are some of the most common (and most dangerous) food additives used today in the manufacturing of soda.

Acesulfame K

This brand-new artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Little research has been done yet but early studies have linked it with certain cancers and thyroid conditions.

 Artificial Flavoring

Artificial flavoring can mean that a food or beverage contains any one of 3,000 allowable chemicals, many of which have negative health effects.

Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)

Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA file of complaints concerning aspartame ingestion includes reports of dizziness, headaches and memory loss. Some studies suggest it is a carcinogen.


Benzene is produced by the bottling process of many beverages. It is a noted carcinogen that has been linked to heart rate issues, infertility and seizures.


Cyclamates are among the first artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks. They were once banned by the FDA because of suspicion of their link to cancer but they are once again up for FDA approval.

Food Coloring

Many food colorings are linked to ADD/ADHD, asthma and cancer. Although several of these are banned in other countries, the US commonly makes use of Blue #1 and #2, FD &C colors, Ponceau, Red 2 (Amaranth), Red #3 (Erythrosine), Red #40 (Allura Red), Tartrazine, Yellow #2G, Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow), Yellow#23 (Acid Yellow).

 Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low)

Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The public stopped purchasing products made with the sweetener when they learned of its possible link to cancer. Studies didn’t ‘prove’ this link, so it is once again common in many artificially-sweetened foods. Saccharin is linked, however, to addiction to sweetness, obesity and overeating.

 Sucralose (Splenda)

Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Sucralose was an accidental discovery: it was originally part of a new insecticide compound.

Chlorinated compounds such as sucralose were thought to pass through the body undigested. Recent research has found that up to 40% of chlorinated compounds become stockpiled in the intestinal tract, kidneys and liver. Chlorine has been classified as a carcinogen.

Many of the compounds listed above cause excess acid in the stomach which can lead to ulcers and other digestive issues. “Soda is…associated with symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux disease, when the contents of the stomach leak back up and cause a burning sensation in the esophagus,” (

If all of the above information hasn’t given you enough reason to try to cut the soda out of your diet, check this out:

According to study mentioned by Dr. Mercola, “an astonishing 94 percent of rats who were allowed to choose…between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar. Even rats who were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine."

If you want to live an addiction-free lifestyle, limit your consumption of processed sugars, starting with soda, if you currently indulge. 

One last thought regarding soda is simply about making life choices. If I’m making a food choice that I know isn’t very healthy for me, but I just want it and am willing to accept the consequences, I can surely think of better ways to spend my calories than on a beverage that’s full of chemicals, colors, sugar, and caffeine.  A 12 oz can of non-diet soda sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or corn syrup has about 130 calories and 8 teaspoons of added sugar, which is about the total amount of added sugars that you should have each day, according to the USDA.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m trying to limit my overall calories, and especially my sugars, I’m sure not going to blow it on a soda. That same 130 calories could be a 3-4 oz piece of meat, 1 roasted sweet potato with a bit of butter, some oatmeal, rice, even a few tortillas, or a hefty slice or two of bread.  Heck, I could even eat a small, house-made scoop of gelato or ice cream! On average, a 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla gelato contains 90 calories, 3 grams of fat and 10 grams of sugar. A typical 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla ice cream contains 125 calories, 7 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar.

In terms of sugar grams, for the caloric price of a single soda, I could have 4 scoops of gelato or 2-3 servings of ice cream! At least, I’d get some calcium, bit of protein, and a tad bit of fat to slow that sugar rush down.

In the next few blog posts, I will reveal to you why drinking diet soda is pretty much as hurtful to your body as is drinking “leaded” soda; and I will discuss some strategies to kick your soda habit…because we want you walking around happy, healthy, strong, disease- and addiction-free with a mouthful of pearly-whites!

Cheers! - Amber St. Claire © Divine Health

Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Coffee

Mayo Clinic: Added Sugar: Don’t Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005

Why should you eat more vegetables and fruits?

Weight Loss

Vegetables and fruit are nutrient-dense without being calorically dense; which means, per serving--they fill you up without causing weight gain and they keep you extra full due to their high fiber content and micronutrient load (vitamins and minerals).  All of this put together means that veggies and fruits fill you up preventing that “hungry” feeling that some people associate with losing fat/weight.

The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI Score) measures the nutrient density per volume of food. For example, 1 ounce or 1 cup of different foods rates high or low on the scale depending upon how many nutrients are contained within that food per weight measurement.  For example, if we compare an ounce of “Lucky Charms” cereal with an ounce of kale, we would find the kale rates higher on the scale because it contains far more vitamins and minerals within a 1-oz serving than the cereal; whereas, the “Lucky Charms” really only provides the macronutrient we know as a carbohydrate without providing any other beneficial nutrients.

So, if you’re having a hard time losing fat/weight, replace some of you other foods (carbs, especially and possibly some of your fat calories) with vegetables, and a bit of fruit. More on this below! Don’t worry, I’m not just gonna leave you hanging like that!

Enhanced Performance in the Gym

Maybe you’re happy with your weight, does that mean you shouldn’t eat so many veggies? Heck NO!  In addition to filling you up with great stuff but without a dense calorie load, the micronutrients--which are your vitamins and minerals, the phytochemicals, and the enzymes, which add to the stomach and intestinal juices help you extract the nutrients contained in your proteins, fats, and starchy carbs more effectively. 

Vegetable and fruit enzymes enhance the breakdown of the amino acids contained in your proteins helping you to maintain and rebuild your muscles, ligaments, and bones (this is why a lot of marinades for meats contain fruit juices, yo!).  Also, the enzymes in veggies and fruits help you to break down the glucose in your starchy carbs for increased energy (better WODs!), including supplying the energy it takes to rebuild your spent muscles (better future WODs!).  Lastly, these enzymes help break down the fats contained within meats, nuts, oils, and butters, all of which serve to lubricate your joints keeping you supple and flexible.

How Many Veggies a Day?

Number of servings?

We’re shooting for 8-10 servings a day. I know this sounds hefty, but you can work up to it, and I’ve provided some ideas and recipes below.

So, if you’re currently eat no veggies/fruits, start with 3-a-day: maybe some salad with lunch and some steamed broccoli with dinner and a piece of fruit prior to your WOD or as an afternoon snack.

What exactly is a serving of vegetables or fruit?

Veggies: A serving of vegetables is about the size of your own fist, or 1-cup, or 8 oz on a food scale: raw or cooked is fine, although many find that they digest their veggies without as much gas if they’re, at the least, steamed.

Fruit: As for fruit, a serving is about the size of your cupped hand, or 1 medium piece, or ½-cup raw, chopped, or about 4 oz on the food scale.

How many veggies vs how many fruits?

This depends upon your personal health goal.  Some general rules include:

5:1 veggies to fruit ratio for a person actively trying to lose fat/weight

4:1 veggies to fruit ratio for a person concerned with maintaining/improving performance in the gym

3:1 veggies to fruit ratio for a person who is a “hard-gainer” or is looking to add mass

How to get ‘er done!

Different colors indicate different minerals and micronutrients.  Shoot for a variety of colors, such as 5 different colors per day.  Try to get at least two servings of veggies per meal and 1-2 pieces of fruit a day, which gets you to 8 servings!

Preparation of Veggies

  •  Steaming: takes only a few minutes, and you can do it either on your stove-top or in the microwave (they have special microwave steamer elements at places like Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond; it might make eating veggies at work a lot more convenient).
  •  Baking/roasting: roasted winter veggies, roasted asparagus, and roasted zucchini are all wonderful.  Or, you could make an entire meal like a meat and veggie-stuffed pepper, or a meat and veggie-stuffed winter squash; or possibly a zucchini pizza with some other veggies and meats, and maybe a sprinkling of cheese on top.
  • Sautee/stir-fry: Make a HUGE veggie stir-fry with onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, eggplant, and kale in a bit of oil.  Consider cooking meat for that meal separately so you have a ton of extra veggies to throw in with your lunch/snacks the next day.
  • Blended: try adding veggies/fruits such as any kind of frozen berry or other no-sugar-added frozen fruit, spinach, kale, steamed carrots or baked or canned pumpkin, a few nuts or nut butter and some protein powder into a supershake.
  • Substitute: Instead of eating steak and potatoes, try steak and mashed parsnips, mashed turnips, mashed cauliflower, or cauliflower rice (Trader Joe’s now sells pre-riced cauliflower in their frozen aisle!! Making a “rice” dish super-fast to prepare). You could try a zucchini lasagna or spaghetti squash spaghetti instead of using traditional pastas. By substituting veggies for some of your favorite starchy carbs, you get many more nutrients, including fiber, but you get many fewer calories and fewer total carbohydrates.
  • Guacamole/Hummus: make it chunkier and less creamy by adding many more veggies like onions, tomatoes, peppers, and jicama and use a smaller amount of avocado. Try a roasted eggplant hummus instead of the traditional garbanzo bean hummus.
  • Juicing: juicing can be great, but should be used occasionally as the process removes the fibers and concentrates the sugars in the vegetables/fruits (think carrots/beets).  It is a great way to get your veggie content up but should not be used as a strategy more than 1x/day.  Think of it as a vitamin shot. 

Some Easy Ideas:

  • Omelets can be loaded with veggies such as spinach, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, or sliced or grated zucchini.
  • Your AM snack might be fruit, some beef jerk, and a few nuts
  • Lunch might include a salad with a minimum of two different veggies (lettuce and tomatoes keeps it simple) along with some protein and dressing for fat
  • A nice PM snack might be a protein shake with super-greens powder (such as Greens+) or fresh spinach and some berries, a serving of protein powder, and some raw nuts such as almonds or a bit of nut butter.
  • Dinner can showcase a mixture of broccoli and cauliflower topped with a bit of butter along with salmon or chicken and possibly some starchy carbs like rice, quinoa, or a few small tortillas, or whole-grain bread.

WARNING: potatoes, including sweet potatoes and corn as starchy carbohydrates so don’t be thinking of these as traditional veggies. These should be considered a starchy carb and eaten post-workout only for fast-loss. They can possibly be eaten pre-WOD as well as post-WOD for those concerned with their performance at the gym (eat several hours ahead such as at breakfast or lunch depending upon your exercise schedule).

Some Elaborate Ideas: AKA formal Recipes

*Adapted from Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso

Pureed Turnips (serves 4)

o   4 turnips, scrubbed and rinsed

o   3 TBS organic butter or fat of choice

1)      Quarter the turnips or cook in the pressure cooker for 8 minutes or steamed for 45 minutes or until very tender

2)      Blend in the blender or food processor with butter and spices of choice (salt and pepper, paprika, garlic, etc.); serve warm

 Kids Love Cabbage Slaw (serves 4)

o   2 cups purple cabbage, diced or sliced

o   1 cup cucumber, diced

o   1 shallot or ¼ of a traditional onion or choice, minced

o   ½ c green mango, finely diced (optional)

o   1 TBS Balsamic vinegar

o   2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

o   Black pepper to taste

1)      Combine all ingredients into a medium bowl; mix well; chill and serve

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing pre-sliced cabbage, and making the recipe a few days before it needs to be eaten.

Hasta la Vista Pasta Lasagna (serves 4-6)

o   1 red onion, diced

o   4 cloves garlic, minced

o   2 TBS olive oil, butter, ghee, or other fat of choice

o   1-lb ground beef

o   1-lb mild, Italian sausage (optional)

o   2 TBS dried oregano

o   ½-c fresh basil, chopped

o   1.2 tsp cayenne pepper

o   ½ tsp sea salt

o   ½ TBS black pepper

o   1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained

o   1 (6 oz) can tomato paste

o   5-6 zucchini, thinly sliced, long ways with a mandolin slicer, a food processor slicer, or a very, sharp knife; soaked in salt for 10-minutes to 1-hour, rinsed, drained, and patted dry with a tea cloth or a paper towel.

o   1 c sliced, black olives (optional)

1)      Slice zucchini and place in a bowl with 2 TBS salt for at least 10 minutes up to 1 hour; rinse in a colander, pat dry with a tea towel or paper towel, set aside

2)      Preheat oven to 350 degrees

3)      In a large soup pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil or other fat of choice for about 3 minutes

4)      Add ground beef and sausage, cook until browned

5)      Season the meat mixture with all of the dry ingredients, add the drained sliced tomatoes and tomato paste; mix well

6)      In a 9x11 Pyrex dish, place a layer of sliced zucchini, overlapping the long slices

7)      Ladle on a thick layer of meat mixture; top with sliced black olives

8)      Add another layer of sliced zucchini, top with another ladle of meat mixture

9)      Cover tightly with aluminum foil and back for 30 minutes

10)   Let sit for approximately 10 minutes prior to slicing and serving

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing a pre-made pasta sauce, preferably organic.  Look for the lowest amount of sugars and the smallest list of ingredients.  You could also prep the zukes the night before (wash, cut, soak in salt, rise, drain, wrap in a moist tea towel or paper towel and lay in a glass dish).

*Adapted from Everyday Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine by Sarah Fragoso

“Risotto” alla Milanese (serves 4)

o   1 head cauliflower

o   2 pounds marrow beef bones (optional)

o   1-2 cups beef broth

o   1 TBS butter, ghee, lard, or bacon grease

o   1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

o   1 tsp saffron threads (optional)

o   ¼ c white wine

o   ¼ c Italian, flat-leaf parsley, finely diced

o   Salt and pepper to taste

1)      Preheat oven to 450 degrees

2)      Line a baking sheet with foil; place marrow bones on top

3)      Bake for 45 minutes

4)      Once the bones are cool enough to handle, scoop out the roasted bone marrow; set aside

5)      Cut cauliflower into florets; place in a food processor and pulse until the size and consistency of rice (or go and buy about 2 bags of frozen, riced cauliflower at Trader Joe’s!); set aside

6)      Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, heat broth over medium-high heat until it simmers; turn the heat to low and keep the broth warm.

7)      Place saffron threads into a small bowl; add 1/4 of the hot broth over the threads; set aside

8)      In a large sauté skillet, add the butter or fat of choice; heat over medium heat; add onion and sauté until browned

9)      Add the beef marrow; sauté 1-2 minutes

10)   Add the cauliflower; mix well

11)   Meanwhile, cook the cauliflower, onion, and marrow, for 7-10 minutes, stirring often.

12)   Add the white wine to the sauté pan; cook 3-5 minutes

13)   Add the saffron-infused beef broth to the sauté pan; mix well

14)   Add another 1.5 cups of broth to the sauté pan; bring it to a simmer

15)   Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper; serve warm

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing frozen, pre-riced cauliflower at Trader Joe’s

*Adapted from The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf

Roasted Green Beans (serves 2)

o   1 lb green beans

o   1 TBS olive oil, butter, or ghee, or oil/fat of choice

o   1 TBS thyme

1)      Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2)      Chop the ends off the beans

3)      Place into a roasting pan; add fat and thyme

4)      Toss until well-coated

5)      Bake 20 minutes; check occasionally, tossing each check; serve warm

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing pre-trimmed green beans or frozen green beans

 Beet and Apple Salad (serves 2)

o   1 lb beets

o   2 TBS olive oil

o   2 TBS lemon juice

o   1 apple

o   ½ c finely chopped red onion

o   ½-1 tsp tarragon

1)      Cut the tops off the beets, place beets in a pot and cover with water.  Simmer, covered over medium-low heat for 1.25 hours; allow beets to cool.

2)      Drain beets, cut off root, and peel the skin

3)      Slice beets crosswise into thin slices; place into a bowl

4)      Pour olive oil and lemon juice over them and chill in fridge

5)      Core and chop the apple, chop the onion, mix into beets and sprinkle with tarragon; chill and serve or serve warm

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing pre-cooked beets, as sold in Costco’s organic aisle (called Love Beets); or it can be prepped a few days prior to eating.

*Adapted from Gourmet Nutrition by John Berardi

Sesame Broccoli with Feta (serves 2)

o   1.5-cups broccoli florets

o   ½-c feta cheese (optional)

o   ¼-cup raisins (loosely packed)

o   1 tsp lemon juice

o   1 TBS black sesame seeds

o   ½ TBS sesame oil

1)      Steam broccoli for 4-5 minutes or until desired tenderness

2)      Remove from pot to a mixing bowl

3)      Combine all ingredients with the hot broccoli; toss together until combine

4)      Serve warm

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing a pre-cut broccoli florets as sold at Costco; frozen broccoli florets work just as well!

*Adapted from Paleo Indulgences by Tammy Credicott

Zucchini Pizza Boats (serves 4)

o   4 large zucchini, washed, ends trimmed off, and cut in half, lengthwise; soaked in salt for 10 minutes to 1 hour; rinsed in a colander, drained, and patted dry

o   ¼-c olive oil

o   1 small onion, diced

o   1 clove garlic, minced

o   ¼-c chopped parsley

o   2 (4oz) cans tomato paste

o   1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes

o   ½ tsp oregano

o   ½ tsp basil

o   Pinch rosemary

o   1 tsp sea salt

o   Freshly ground pepper to taste

1)      Slice zucchini and place in a bowl with 2 TBS salt for at least 10 minutes up to 1 hour; rinse in a colander, pat dry with a tea towel or paper towel, set aside.

2)      Preheat oven to 400 degrees

3)      Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat, add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes

5)      Add garlic and parsley; stir

6)      Add remaining sauce ingredients stirring well to combine, turn heat down to low and simmer, covered for 30 minutes

7)      Meanwhile, clean and prep the zucchini.  With a spoon, hollow out the middle of each zucchini half, removing only enough to make a shallow well.  Place the zucchini on a parchment-lined baking sheet, hollowed side up.

8)      Spoon some sauce into each boat, top with your favorite items

9)      Bake about 20 minutes or until toppings are cooked, sauce is bubbling, and zucchini is hot.

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing a pre-made pizza sauce, preferably organic.  Look for the lowest amount of sugars and the smallest list of ingredients.  You could also prep the zukes the night before (wash, cut, soak in salt, rise, drain, wrap in a moist tea towel or paper towel and lay in a glass dish).

 *Adapted from Sprouts “Farmer’s Market” Magazine

Kale and Peach Salad (serves 4)

o   1 large bunch of kale, stems removed, rinsed and shredded or finely chopped

o   2 peaches, rinsed and cut into wedges (sub nectarines, if you’d like)

o   ½-c shelled pecans, finely chopped (optional)

o   2 TBS agave syrup, honey, or maple syrup

o   1 TBS apple cider vinegar

o   2 tsp light miso (white or yellow)

o   Salt to taste

o   Fresh, ground, pepper to taste

o   ½ tsp basil

o   Pinch rosemary

o   1 tsp sea salt

o   Freshly ground pepper to taste

1)      Place kale in a large salad bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk agave, oil, vinegar, miso, salt and pepper together.  Drizzle over kale and massage into the kale using your hands, add peaches and pecans; gently toss, serve; or chill and serve later in the evening.

2)      Preheat oven to 400 degrees

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing pre-chopped kale and making the vinaigrette the night before eating or on a food prep day

 Apple and Ginger Green Smoothie (serves 2)

o   1 apple, rinsed, cored, and chopped

o   1 handful spinach or kale leaves; stems removed

o   1 small cucumber, rinsed and chopped

o   1 TBS fresh, minced ginger

o   ¼ -c fresh mint leaves, rinsed, stems removed

o   1 TBS honey, agave nectar, or molasses (optional)

o   1.5-c water

1)      Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until desired consistency; feel free to add ice if you wish

TIP: this recipe could be really easy by purchasing pre-chopped spinach or kale and pre-minced ginger or ground ginger (use 1 tsp), and by pre-prepping the cucumber and mint leaves the night before or during food prep.


  • Inspiration for this blogpost by the Barbell Shrugged Podcast and their Faction Foods Nutrition Course:
  • ANDI Score Information:
  • Vegetable/Fruit Serving Recommendations: Precision Nutrition, by John Berardi and Ryan Andrews
  • Recipe inspiration: Everyday Paleo and Everyday Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine, both by Sarah Fragoso; The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf; Gourmet Nutrition by Precision Nutrition; and Paleo Indulgences by Tammy Credicott.

-Amber St. Claire

Check out the Veggie Storage Tips below. I recommend printing them and storing this document in your kitchen! Happy eating!

"MEATUP" to Eat Up

Hey, Hey CCSC Beasts and Beastettes, we've got some great new products centered on convenient AND healthy eating coming into the CCSC community! "Meat-Up" is the name of the company that creates convenient AND Paleo-friendly. The company also provides its distribution centers with a freezer to keep the meals frozen until you pick them up. These meals taste great and are packed with the nutrients necessary for being beastly! But, are all the meals equally appropriate for your health-based goals? (Hint: the answer is NO!)

If you're having trouble deciding which savory 'Meat-Up' products to order, it might be helpful for you think about your meal selections in terms of the "Anytime Meal Plate" and the "Post-Workout Meal Plate".  Also, make your meal decisions based upon your personal health goals.

Remember, if your goal is fat loss, then you're trying to save most or all of your starchy carbs for after your workouts. If you're trying to gain mass, then you can and should eat carbohydrates more often throughout the day.  If your goal is weight maintenance with enhanced performance, it may be appropriate for you to have carbs at 2 out of 4 meals around your workouts, such as the meals before and after your workout. 

If you're trying to stay fairly low carb or are using the meals as "Anytime Plate" meals, then, I'd suggest the Breakfast Sausage and Sweet Potato Home Fries or the Beef Chicana which both have fewer than 20 carbohydrates for the entire meal. 

All of the other meals being offered by 'Meat-Up' at this time are appropriate for a "Post-Workout Meal" and range anywhere from 30-50 carbs with the Sweet Potato and Beef Chili ranking highest in both carbohydrates and protein.  If I was an athlete looking to bulk up, I'd definitely invest my money in some chili. The Pecan-Crusted Meat Loaf is both high carb and high fat and therefore, is more appropriate as a bulking meal, or as a "once-in-a-while" meal if your goal includes weight maintenance or fat loss. 

While this nutritional information is publicly displayed on the "Meat-Up" website, I've simply gathered it all into one document and categorized it based upon "Anytime" and "Post-Workout Meal Plates," in order to help you make informed choices when ordering.  


~ Beef Chicana

Nutrition info: 350 calories, 38g protein, 14g carbs, 10g fats

~ Breakfast Sausage and Sweet Potato Home Fries 

Nutritional info: 370 calories, 40g protein, 19g carbs, 12g fat


~ Sausage-Stuffed Bell Pepper

Nutrition info: 300 calories, 34g protein, 29g carbs, 8g fats

~ Chicken Curry

Nutrition info: 410 calories, 40g protein, 30g carbs, 15g fat

~ BBQ Chicken

Nutrition info: 354 calories, 38g protein, 31g carbs, 8g fat.

~ Sweet Potato and Beef Chili

Nutrition info: 544 calories, 50g protein, 52g carbs, 15g fat


~ Pecan-Crusted Meat Loaf

Nutrition info: 525 calories, 42g protein, 38g carbs, 28g fat

So, when you're ordering your "Meat-Up" meals, try to plan out how many meals you might need as well as the types of meals that are most appropriate for your individual goals. 

See you around the meat locker!  - Amber


As many of you know, I left the gym for a week to vacation in Costa Rica! It is vacation season and Amber was kind enough to put together this awesome list of travel tips to help guide you during your travels! Enjoy!


1) Prepare: 

> Proteins and fats are the only nutrients your body needs to survive. Protein powder, jerky, nuts, and nutrition bars are all great things to pack for convenience helping you to avoid making a desperate and, most likely, non-compliant choice.

> If possible, look up hotel(s) online, and choose one that is within walking distance of a grocery store. Almost all rooms have at least a fridge (you might need to ask the front desk to provide one) and, sometimes, a microwave available. Hit the store when you get into town, and purchase the items you need to make compliant food choices. While you're online, scope out some of the nearest restaurants, and check out the menus to see if you can put together a compliant meal. Sometimes, you might end up with an appetizer of meat skewers and a side salad or a double-order of broccoli from the side menu.

> While you're online, check for a local gym that you might go to a few days if your trip's itinerary allows the flexibility. 

> If you have no control over the hotel's location, get online and see what's around you to assess your options. You might need to pack the items suggested above. 

> Continue to drink a lot of water (2-3 quarts/liters which means 8-12, 8-oz cups).

> Try Intermittent Fasting: if you've never done this, it might be a good time try. All this means is that you forgo eating longer than usual. That might mean you simply don't eat breakfast but drink water or tea. I like to order coffee with heavy cream (if they have it, you'll probably need to request it), or 1/2 and 1/2 for a bit of fat to tide me over to my morning snack. This strategy also helps you "save" calories for later. 

> Don't forget your shaker and water bottle(s)!

2) Compliant Eating Tips: 

> You cannot out-train a poor diet. Diet makes up 70-80% of why your body is the way it is, making diet even more important than strenuous exercise. So the best thing you can do for your body is to try to eat as compliantly as possible while on your trip. The first step is preparation, which is why "Prepare" is number 1 on this list. 

> By now, you are pretty clear on when you're supposed to eat what, so just do your best. 

> In terms of all your meals and're probably not training as usual right now, so it's ok if you don't get all your food in on a daily fact, it's probably a bit helpful. You might feel a bit hungry because it takes your digestive system a few days to adjust to less food. And, when you get back home, you might even feel like you're stuffing your face because you may have adjusted to less food by that point! 

> If you're going to eat carbs/sweets, try to save them until after 2 pm. Or, eat a little bit and throw the rest away (I know it's is, however, a choice) or split something with a buddy.

> breakfast: 

> Is breakfast provided? Go for boiled eggs, poached eggs, or omelets...try to go cheese-less because there's often cream mixed in with omelet eggs, and the whole thing is most likely cooked in more fat than you would normally use. Remember, with eggs you don't need extra fat (like bacon and sausage). If you want bacon and sausage, opt for a cheese-less egg-white or an egg substitute omelet. 

> Try looking on the side menu to see you can order a side of a few eggs. You might have to do a double or triple order depending on your personalized diet procedure, and then you'll have to endure the weird looks. ;)

> If you must order a whole meal, ask if you can trade out the potatoes/hash browns and toast for a side of fruit; and only eat 1/2 of it if your a lady. Guys can eat all the fruit. At the very least, just ask your server to leave the starch off the plate and to not to bring the toast. 

> Try to stay away from parfaits and yogurts unless you know the yogurt is plain and not vanilla-flavored...if it's flavored, it probably has too much sugar for you. 

> Make a protein shake with milk, milk alternative or water, and eat some nuts or a KIND low-sugar bar.

> Eat a nutrition bar: QUEST bar is an option. Or any bar that's high protein (approximately 20+ grams); moderate to high fat (approximately 5-15 grams); and low-carb (about 15 grams or less depending on fiber content of bar). 

> Buy a pre-made protein shake like a MUSCLE MILK (not the best or worst you could do, and it seems to be widely available). 

> Guys might need a full protein bar and a full protein shake to meet their protein needs at a meal. However, don't be surprised if this combo causes a stomach-ache. Real food is always best. 

> lunch/dinner: 

> Dealing with lunches and dinners? Opt for salads with meat and dressing on the side...adjust how much dressing you use based upon how many nuts and cheeses are on your salad).ypu could also order any broiled, seared, baked, or bbq'ed meat option and steamed veggies (ask for either dry-rub only or no BBQ sauce or BBQ sauce on the side as they're often very sugary). Ask for no bread, and trade the starch on the plate for extra veggies...especially if you're going to drink alcohol, try to limit your carbs at lunch/dinner. 

> Make a protein shake with milk or water, and eat some nuts or a KIND low-sugar bar.

> Eat a nutrition bar: QUEST bar is an option. Or any bar that's high protein (approximately 20+ grams); moderate to high fat (approximately 5-15 grams); and low-carb (about 15 grams or less depending on fiber content of bar). 

> Buy a pre-made protein shake like a MUSCLE MILK (not the best or worst you could do, and it seems to be widely available). 

> Guys might need a full protein bar and a full protein shake to meet their protein needs at a meal. However, don't be surprised if this combo causes a stomach-ache. Real food is always best. 

> snacks: 

> Hopefully, you prepared and brought/bought something...nuts or a KIND bar, alone, will always work in a pinch. A lot of candy machines these days have a jerky and/or a nut option available. 

> Remember, it's ok if you don't eat all your food because your training is down.

3) Alcohol: 

> Try to hold off until after 2 pm. Stick to hard liquor a with diet or club soda.

> Plain, vanilla, or cake-flavored vodkas are good with diet coke.

> Citron or mandarin-flavored vodka plus a squeeze and twist of a citrus fruit is good with club soda (a bit strong if you're unused to it).

> Old fashioneds (whiskey-based...ask for light sugar); manhattans (whiskey-based...ask for light sugar); regular vodka or gin martinis, vodka or gin gimlets (ask for light sugar); or straight shots--clean or on the rocks--are your best bets. 

> Beers and sugary, mixed drinks (margaritas, daiquiris, piña coladas, etc.) are your worst bets. 

> Angry Orchard Cider is not appropriate because it has a lot of sugar. In terms of ciders, stick with Two Rivers, Common, Crispin, Ace...or choose blindly at your own risk for a carb overdose. 

> Try to limit yourself to 1-3 drinks; and try not to drink everyday. Drink one day and lay off the next day; or, at least, drink less the next day. 

> It's important to eat as compliantly as possible if your are drinking because it will minimize the  setbacks you might face.

4) Walk, walk, walk: 

> If this is the only exercise you get, it'll still be very helpful! It is great if your trip is business-like and includes a lot of sitting. 

5) Exercise:

> Use the Exercise sheet Erica offered up in the latest newsletter for some body-weight hotel room exercise options.

> Use the treadmill, elliptical, or bike (or run outside if you have a timer watch) to run some sprints. After warming-up for 5 minutes or longer, jog for 45 seconds and sprint for 15 seconds, run 45, sprint for 15, etc. for a total of 10 minutes. The treadmill is a bit cumbersome because you have to turn up and down the speed. But the machines might have a built-in sprint setting. 

> You can also sprint intuitively by just adding a sprint until you can't sprint anymore, jog or walk until you're recovered in breath, repeat 10 times (after warming up, of course). 

> Check out the local Crossfit or Strength and Conditioning gym. Be sure to try to contact them beforehand and/or check out their website to see if there's an online waiver and instructions for drop-in athletes. Don't just pop in unless you've been there before. Or, popping in to scope the place out and introduce yourself is even better because you'll know where it is, and the next day's class will be smoother for you and for the facility that is welcoming you. 

> You can always just jog a bit, but sprinting help your body in the same way as weightlifting giving you more after-burn effects in terms of calories usage (for anywhere from 24-72 hours of enhanced metabolic burn depending upon your unique body), whereas simply jogging only really burns calories during the activity. 

> Take a deload week and don't worry about the exercise; let your body recover from training.

Above all, have fun! Experience the culture! If you make some non-compliant choices, that's OK! Nobody's judging you (except maybe you). Just be willing to accept that you might have a temporary setback in terms of your progress. And, then again, you might not!! It's all a grand experiment! The worst thing to do is to stress over your diet. So, prepare as much as possible, make compliant choices as often as possible, and roll with the flow. 

- Amber St. Claire

Grocery Shopping

Eating healthy takes time, and it's worth that time! You'll set a great example for your children and your friends, and you'll have better control over the food that enters your body and thus your overall health. Also, eating healthy is actually more important even than exercise in order to reach your health goals, as you really cannot "out-train" a poor nutritional program. 

Additionally, shopping for your groceries and preparing your own meals makes you leaner! How?! you'll spend more calories shopping in a grocery store than you would sitting in a restaurant; you'll spend more calories preparing your own meals than picking up the phone and ordering delivery. 

So, without further adieu, CCSCers, it's time to talk about shopping for groceries! 

The best plan is to set aside a few hours each week to both shop AND pre-prep your food. Pre-prepping means cooking up a bunch of protein and chopping veggies so they're ready to eat and/or cook at a moment's notice.

Why should you have a grocery-shopping and food-prepping plan? 

1) you're less likely to eat/order out if you have a well-stocked kitchen AND some pre-prepped food.

2) you'll know exactly what's going into your meals which makes it easier to calculate how much you're eating.

How often should you shop?

Shopping one time per week is best in order to:

1) ensure that you have enough food on hand so that you're prepared to eat well and reach your health goals.

2) ensure that you don't purchase too much food at one time and then have it turn bad before you can use it.

Ugh, I have to go to a store once every seven days?!


1) purchase meats in bulk only twice a month (every two weeks); when you get home, break it up into individual or family-sized portions and either cook it or freeze it; that way, you can shop for fresh produce one time per week, which makes for a quick shopping trip.

2) purchase pre-chopped veggies; these tend to be more expensive but will save you time at home during your food prep. 

Step 1: develop a grocery list

This helps your trip to the store stay quick and efficient.

What items should be on my list?

1) Most of what you purchase should be vegetables and proteins since both your "Anytime Plate" and your "Post-Workout Plate" is comprised mostly of veggies and protein. Depending upon how often your work out, the "Anytime Plate" should make up 80-90% of your weekly meals.

2) If you're a simple eater, most of your meals will simply be a meat prepared the way you like it, a vegetable or two prepared the way you like them with a bit of fat either used in the cooking process or added on the side.

When in doubt, make your shopping list based upon the SuperFoods listed below:

Protein Superfoods:

*grassfed beef 

*wild fish

*free-range chicken

*Omega 3 eggs (same as above)

Health TIP: It is suggested that you take a fish oil supplement if you choose not to or cannot afford grassfed/wild/free-range meats, which have a better omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid profile (more on these in upcoming blog posts)

Veggie Superfoods:

*Spinach for super shakes/salads/juicing/steamed veggie dish

*Kale same as above

*Collard greens same as above

*Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage which can be used to make bulk lunch or dinner salads like Jessie's broccoli/chicken salad (or you could switch out that broccoli for cabbage and make coleslaw which makes for a quick veggie option at lunch/dinner)

Fruit Superfoods:

*Berries are lowest in sugars and should be priority

*Tomatoes for juicing or salads

Health TIP: fruit should be considered nature's candy, so eat it in moderation (maximum of 2 servings per day and even less for aggressive fat loss)

Health TIP: while, fresh, local produce is optimal for your body in terms of nutrients, frozen veggies and fruits are picked and frozen at the height of ripeness and are therefore just about as good for you as fresh produce. But, in both cases, be sure the packages contain ONLY that fruit or veggie and no added sugars, salts, sauces. For convenience purposes and healthy eating, frozen produce should be prioritized over canned produce.

Fat Superfoods:

*Avocado: salads/super shakes/guacamole

*Flax seeds: high in omega 3s and great in shakes or on salads

*Nuts/nut butters: be careful of amounts here as these contain a lot of calories per serving making them nutrient dense and easy to overeat in terms of calories

*Fish oil: high in omega 3s


*Water is best



If you're more of a recipe user, then the strategy below will help you make a grocery list. 

Start by categorizing your meals then brainstorm the items you need for them: 

Before shopping, plan your meals/recipes to make list: 

A)  Sunday bulk recipe: making a chili, stew, or a crockpot recipe is helpful to get you through the first half of the week--especially for packing up your lunches or if you have some busy evenings and won't have time to cook dinner. Even just cooking up a bunch of protein on the grill, the stove, or in the oven can really help your week's meal-planning run smoothly.

B) Wednesday bulk recipe: just like Sunday, cooking a bulk recipe mid-way through the week can get you through the rest of the week's lunches and/or dinners.

C) Super-shakes: if you utilize shakes as a meal option, be sure to list the items you need for them.

D) List of vegetables: for daily eating and juicing (if you juice).

E) Breakfast items: list the items are you most likely to eat for breakfast for purchase

How much food should I purchase? Remember your hand measurements:

A) protein: if you eat 4 meals a day and your a woman, that is about 4 oz of protein per meal, which is about 16 oz or 1 pound of meat per day; 32 oz or two pounds of meat per day for most men. Multiply those numbers by 7 days week.  For one couple, that'd be 24 pounds of meat a week.

B) veggies: if you're eating a minimum of 1 (women) to 2 (men) cups of veggies per meal, then you'd need 4 (women) or 8 cups (men) daily. Multiply that by 7 days per week. For one couple, that'd be 84 cups of veggies per week, minimum.

C) carbs/fats: calculate the same as above using your hand measurements and taking into consideration how much your work out (for weekly carb amounts)


1) Shopping pathway: you've probably heard many times that when grocery shopping for health, you want to stay on the perimeter of the store. This way, you'll hit the produce aisle, the bulk foods aisle (nuts/seeds/whole grains), the meat/seafood section, and the eggs/dairy section. BONUS: if you have to shop with your children, these aisles tend to not have brightly-colored packaged food items that attract children to beg you to buy unhealthy foods.

2) The aisles: once you've shopped your perimeter, you can go into the aisles for certain food items such as canned tomatoes/veggies, frozen veggies/fruits, spices, oils, and whole grain bread (if you eat bread). In the aisles, don't be fooled by clever marketing tactics such as the following:

*Added vitamins/minerals

*No sugar added

*Fat free

*Low carb

*High protein

*Contains real fruit

Stick to your list and stay away from cardboard boxes and plastic containers.

3) Reading labels: Reading labels on a package usually is a red flag. Eighty to ninety percent of the food you purchase should not have a label because the foods that are best for you do not have labels. If you do purchase a food with a label: 

A) Ask yourself: is this good for me? If you find yourself saying, "it's not THAT bad, then it's probably bad." Don't buy it because you'll eat it.

B) Look for the BIG 3 "No-No's":

*Added sugar

*Hydrogenated/trans fats

*Unknown chemicals

C) Fewer ingredients is better: ideally, packaged foods that you may purchase will have fewer than 5 total ingredients on a label (EX: almond butter should read: almonds, or almonds and salt)

Money-Saving TIPS:

*purchase the generic brands of items, if available

*purchase meats in bulk; buy a whole grassfed, pasture-raised cow and split the cost among 2-4 families, which makes purchasing quality beef much more affordable

*purchase what's on sale: meat/produce/frozen and canned veggies and fruits

*shop online for possibly hard to find items like coconut oil 

*support your local farmers by purchasing items at farmer's markets or through a CSA (community-supported agricultural) farm 

Happy Shopping! - Amber

Kitchen Makeover

Limiting Factor: something in your life that makes it difficult for you to achieve a goal.

Well folks, you're a few weeks into the Country Strong Challenge, and hopefully, you've been incorporating some new healthy eating habits into your life. If not, we need to go back and be sure your goals are realistic for you (Feel free to message or email me if you're struggling with this).  If they are realistic, and you're serious about committing to change, then we need to look at your limiting factors and eliminate them as obstacles.

The next few blog posts will help with getting rid of some common limiting factors in your life.

Today, we discuss your kitchen as a potential limiting factor. Making over your kitchen so that it can better serve you in your healthy-eating goals is simple, but not necessarily easy.

Step 1: Toss Junk Foods

  • if it's in your house, you'll will eat it
  • if it's not there, you CAN'T eat it 
  • Trash/Donate junk 
  • Tossing the stuff out that doesn't serve your goals is step 1. Now, throwing away food that you spent money on can be difficult because it seems wasteful. However, most likely, if you have an item in your pantry that's off-limits to you, you're setting yourself up to cheat; whereas, if the item is not in your home, you're less likely to cheat because cheating requires much more of an effort. Therefore, if you cannot fathom getting rid of food that is not so good, have a friend come over and do it for you (you may even want to leave the house during this process).

Junk includes: most processed foods, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, chips, sugary snacks and drinks, hydrogenated oils, fake meats. 

Step 2: Restock Quality Foods

  • Meats: organic or pasture-raised if feasible
  • Veggies: go for a variety of colors and try to purchase in-season, local, organic veggies
  • Nuts/Seeds: unless you have an allergy to these or you have issues with portion control. In that case, stick to other fat sources like avocado, coconut oil/butter, grass-fed butter, or ghee.
  • Fruits/Berries: most of you won't be eating too much fruit daily, so I advise not to overstock. Berries are your best "anytime" fruit option especially if you stay in the 1/2-1 cup range. I typically buy organic, frozen fruit for my smoothies, and that's about it. 
  • Water/Tea: or any other non-calorie beverage of choice. I like Crystal Geyser sparkling mineral water. You can purchase (unsweetened) iced tea or make it yourself. Coffee is fine as well. If you're a diet soda fan, it's obviously not your best option, but it's also not your worst option. Try mixing some tea with sparking water for a diet soda alternative. 

Step 3: Tools and Appliances

  • Pot with Steamer Basket: it's a lot quicker to boil 1 inch of water than a whole pot of water. In addition, food retains its consistency and nutrients when lightly steamed verses heavily boiled.  Lastly, you can steam a veggie halfway, then sauté it in butter for a few minutes to get better flavor while using less fat (if you have to cook a veggie from start to finish in fat, you need a LOT of fat, which might be too much fat for a meal). 
  • Crockpot with a Plastic Liner: the plastic liners are usually sold near the ziploc bags. Essentially, you line your crockpot and cook. When finished, throw the whole pot insert in the fridge, eat out of it for a few days, throw away the entire liner and your crock is ready for use once again!
  • Non-Stick Skillet: leave it on the stove for easy access every morning if omelets or eggs are your go-to breakfast item. Non-stick items clean up very fast and save you time.  Additionally, you won't need as much cooking fat.
  • Blender: great for super shakes/smoothies. Put everything in your blender container except for any frozen fruits or ice and store it in the fridge; in the am, blend and go.  A quick tip...after you've poured your shake, fill the blender container half way with hot water and a bit of soap, and blend again, rinse, and you're out the door! 
  • Food Processor: hate chopping veggies? Pulse them in the food processor for quick veggies for omelet or on top of salads.
  • Lunch Cooler: gotta keep all that good food cold and fresh. Great for people who work out of their cars a lot such as truck drivers, construction workers, and salesmen. 
  • Baking Pan with Aluminum Foil: I'm sure most of you have a baking pan or cookie sheet. This item is great for baking or broiling meats. But, if you cover the pan with foil first, your cleanup will be super quick and easy.
  • Bare Essentials Utensils: knife, silicone spatula, tongs, and a large cutting board. A single, quality, well-sharpened chef's knife is really all you need. Keep it sharp for easily cutting veggies and meats. Yes, there are other knives for other purposes, and if you have those...awesome! But, if you lack one large, quality knife, this is where you need to start. The spatula can be used to clean out your blender and/or processor, to cook your eggs, and to stir your soups. The tongs are for flipping meats and bacon.
  • Easy Cleanup: use paper plates and plastic utensils. While this option is not so eco-friendly, it is time-friendly. If there are a few days in your week that end up being crazy, don't be afraid to resort to this's better than ordering fast food.

Step 4: Storage and Tupperware

  • Large/Medium/Small Tupperware: large options can hold all the meat and veggies you've prepared ahead of time. The medium pieces are for your to-go lunches and/or dinners, while the small can be used for pre-chopped veggies and fresh herbs that you can use to enhance the flavor of your food throughout the week. 
  • when you get home from shopping, if you can block out an hour or two to wash, chop, and store your veggies while you're cooking up a lot of protein to last for a few days or throughout the week, you're much more likely to eat the food rather than letting the food go bad.
  • Also, if you're prepared, lack of time or lack of healthy, prepared food in the house is no longer a limiting factor for you!

Step 5: Spices

  • Buy in Bulk: salt and pepper get old after a while. Trader Joe's has pretty good deals on spices. Costco sells spice blends such as Taco Seasoning, Montreal Steak Rub, and Lemon Pepper. Even their Chili Powder is actually a blend of several spices.  Winco is also a great place to purchase spices in bulk.  I recently discovered that my Winco has some great spice grinders with salt, pepper, and dried garlic all included in the grinder. They also have Sriracha Salt Grinder which looks intriguing! 

That's it for the kitchen makeover. Next time, we'll talk about grocery shopping!!

Remember to post or email any questions or concerns you have throughout the challenge!!

Cheers! - Amber St. Claire

Goal Setting

Ohhhhh, nooooo! Yes peeps! It's that time of year where we look forward to a fresh start! First of all, let's begin by saying we're going to set some goals for the year of 2015....NOT resolutions!

In my opinion, the term "resolution" hints that something's wrong with you...that you need to re-solve an issue, which literally means to solve a problem, again. So, let's just kick that cliche term to the curb and set some yearly health goals...indicating that there is indeed NOTHING wrong with're just looking for improvement in your life! Deal? Ok, let's move on!

There are two main types of goals: outcome goals and behavioral goals. The outcome goal is the result or outcome you're chasing. The behavioral goals are the steps you will take to achieve the outcomes you desire.

We have some rules to abide by for setting outcome goals:
1) goals are written down
2) goals are specific and measurable
3) goals have a timeline
4) goals are realistic
5) goals are limited
6) goals are personally significant

Written: if a goal isn't written, it's a wish, a hope, or a dream. Those are all great, except they don't usually come true without a written plan of action.

Specific/measurable: a goal should be written so that there is no question of the intended outcome. If your goal is to lose fat, how many pounds of fat would you like to lose? If your goal is to gain strength, in which movement specifically and how much extra weight on the barbell do you consider as reaching your strength goal? If your goal is to "eat cleaner," well, we need to know, specifically, what that looks like...does that mean eating a minimum of 5 veggie servings a day, or does it start with eliminating processed foods?

Timeline: timelines help make your goals more real and give you the drive to develop the behaviors you'll need to accomplish your goal in a certain amount of time.

Realistic: you gotta be real with yourself, yo! If you're setting a goal of losing 10 lbs of fat in 2 weeks, or adding 50 pounds to your deadlift in a month, you're probably setting yourself up for failure and defeat. Goals take time and consistency to accomplish. So, be real! Your coaches can help you with developing appropriate timelines for strength gains, mass gains, and fat loss.

Limited: if you try to accomplish too many goals at once, you're bound to not accomplish any of them, which can ruin your self-esteem and lead you down the road of disappointment and despair. In addition, chasing too many goals at once can add unnecessary stress to your life, which means you're setting yourself up to get burnt out and say "F" it to all of your goals. For now, pare down your goals to one or two. You can always add new goals as you accomplish the original ones.

Significant: what's the real reason you chose your goal? Is it simply to challenge yourself? Do you have a history of cardiovascular or metabolic diseases (Type II Diabetes is an example) in your family? Do you have a special event coming up? Do you want to compete? Are you trying to set a better example for your family so they can also be healthy with you? Figure out why you want to accomplish this goal and write that down, too.

Here's an example of an inadequately-written goal: I want to lose fat, gain strength, eat healthier, and compete in some comps. Whoa there, Nelly! This goal is written, but it lacks specificity, measurability, and a timeline. Nor is there any real significance attached to it. And, there are too many things to focus on here!

Here's an example of a well-written goal: I want to drop 5 pounds of body fat over the next 12 weeks. This goal is important to me because I have about 20 pounds of fat total to lose in order to enter a healthy weight range, and losing 5 pounds will motivate me to lose the rest. Many people in my family are obese and unhealthy and tend to expire at a young age. I want to live a long, healthy, and active life.

Another example: I want to gain 50 pounds in my deadlift over the next 12 weeks. I want to do this because my deadlift has always been my weakest lift, and I feel it holds me back from making gains in other lifts; and beating Coach Manny will feel awesome! (Well, some might feel that beating Coach Manny is personally significant, right? Haha!)

Ok, now that you you've considered how to properly write an outcome goal, let's look at how you're going to accomplish this goal.

Now, we must set your behavioral goals. These goals will follow guidelines 1-4 above, and they will list the specific action(s) that you will perform in order to achieve your outcome goal.

Ok, so, poorly-written behavioral goal to go with a weight loss outcome goal of losing 5 pounds of fat in 12 weeks: I will eat cleaner.

Well-written behavioral goal: I will replace processed carbs with 2 servings of vegetables at dinner a minimum of five times per week for the next 12 weeks.

Another well-written behavioral goal: I will get to CCSC a minimum of three times per week for the next 12 weeks.

Both of these goals are written down, specific (say what you will do), measurable (you either did it or not), are realistic (you know these are actions you can commit to 80% of the time) and have timelines (x times per week for x number of weeks).

For your accountability, mark an X on your calendar every time you performed the behavioral goals you set.

Now, when your deadline rolls around, you may not have lost the full 5 pounds of fat or added that 50 pounds to your deadlift. Maybe you lost 3.5 pounds of fat. Maybe you added 25 pounds to your deadlift. You cannot really control the outcomes, but you can control your behaviors. The important thing is that you have probably developed some positive habits over the course of time. And, you are closer to accomplishing your goal than you were when you set out.

And THAT, my friends, IS an accomplishment!

Sawing Logs

Do we have to do this at the gym tomorrow?! Is this a new Strongman event?! What if I don't own a saw?! What if I'm a tree-hugger?!

No, no, sillies...this is about the importance of sleep, catching Zs, sawing logs.

Sometimes, we get so focused on what we have to do that sleep gets placed on the back burner of our priority stove...but, sleep--how much you get and the quality of sleep you get--is arguably just as important as the food you eat and the way you move your body.

Good sleep, helps our bodies and minds recover, keeping us lean, happy, mentally focused, and healthy. But chronically poor/inadequate sleep slathers on body fat, screws up our hormones, ages us faster, increases chronic illnesses, and drains our IQ and mojo.

Studies show that, "People who get at least seven hours of sleep per night tend to have less body fat than people who don't...In a study involving 9,000 people between 1982 and 1984 (NHANES I), researchers found that people who averaged six hours of sleep per night were 27 percent more likely to be overweight than their seven-to-nine hour counterparts; and those averaging five hours of sleep per night were 73 percent more likely to be overweight.


More reasons why getting adequate and restful sleep is important...

This 2010 review of the endocrine effects of sleep deprivation on humans provides a good overview of how sleep deprivation affects us hormonally:

Glucose tolerance goes down. This is a well-known phenomenon, and it’s probably one reason why chronic sleep loss is a big risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Appetite increases. Leptin, the hormone that signals [fullness], is lowest in people with sleep deprivation. This is one reason that people who haven’t slept tend to crave carbohydrates and junk food more than any other food. Their ability to resist these cravings also decreases.

Cortisol rhythm gets out of whack. Normally, cortisol is highest in the morning (to wake you up) and drops through the day until the evening, when it’s lowest (to let you get to sleep). Under sleep deprivation, cortisol is still high in the morning, but the drop-off throughout the day is far more gradual – and at night, cortisol can remain elevated enough to disrupt the quality of sleep, creating a vicious lack-of-sleep + chronically elevated-cortisol level.

via Marks Daily Apple:

So, how do we improve our sleep quality?

Well, I'm glad you asked! Just as we benefit from our wake-up routines, our weekly and monthly routines, our nutrition routines and our exercise routines, we can benefit by building a solid sleep routine. Here are some helpful tips to get you sawing the biggest (loudest) logs in the forest!

I. Create and maintain a regular sleep schedule.

A. Length of sleep:
Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 7 should be your baseline. If you know you have to wake up at 5:15 to get ready for work, then be in bed by 9:30 and asleep by 10. Getting in bed at 10:15 doesn’t count.  Also factor in transition time. Don’t stop what you’re doing at 9:29 and expect to be snoring by 9:30. Start moving in the direction of bed by 9:00.

B. Consistent sleep time:
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and night.  While it might be unrealistic to do this seven days a week, try to be as consistent as possible. If you’re consistent, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed, and stimulating hormones to help you wake up. You’ll feel sleepy when it’s time for bed and wake up more refreshed. Heck, you may not even need that annoying alarm!

C. Try to get to bed before midnight:
According to some sleep experts, because of the way our natural circadian rhythms work, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after.

II. Just prior to bed (in no particular order)

A. Turn off electronics:
Digital devices stimulate our brain with light, noise, and mental demands. Unplug from all screens — TVs, computers, phones, tables — at least 30 minutes before bed. (If you must read your tablet, switch the screen to the black or dimmer background. And if you’re going to be on your computer, download a program like f.lux, which decreases your screen’s color temperature at night.) Our brain produces melatonin as light levels decrease. Melatonin ensures deep sleep, and may also help regulate our metabolism. If we have too much light at night, we don’t get proper melatonin production.

B. De-Stress before bed:
What de-stresses you? Do that! This could include: Gentle movement — such as stretching, foam rolling, or yoga, or even a slow stroll around the block. Try meditation, deep breathing, or other simple relaxation exercises? Even 5-15 minutes can release tension and activate calm-down chemicals.

C. Do a brain dump:
We’ve all done it: Stared at the ceiling, long after lights-out, obsessing about all the things we’re supposed to do tomorrow, tossing and turning and getting more and more stressed by the minute. Try this instead: In the evening, take a few minutes to write out a list of whatever’s bugging you: Emails you need to send or reply to, calls you have to make, project ideas, creative thoughts, that thing you should have said to so-and-so…
Whatever is in your brain, get it out and on to paper. Keep a brain dump journal by your bed.

D. Read a book before bed — but make sure it’s not too engaging — otherwise you’ll be tempted to stay up with that thrilling detective novel until the wee hours.

E. Take a bath or shower.
While not everyone likes to shower or bathe at night, warm water before bed can help us relax and de-stress, which is key for falling asleep. If you go the warm water route, throw in some magnesium-based epsom salts as magnesium is known to help with sleep.

III. Optimize your sleep environment

In addition to creating a nightly sleep routine to help improve your sleep quality and duration, you should ensure that your sleeping environment is conducive to sleep.

A. Keep the room as dark as possible.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain that signals to your body it is time for sleep. Making your room as dark as possible will maximize your melatonin production. Dim your lights at night. Install low-wattage bulbs in your bedroom, and keep things as dim as possible in the hour before your planned bedtime. Cover your windows well. Use a motion-sensitive or dim night light if you need something to illuminate your midnight path to the bathroom. Put your iPhone in another room or flip it face down. Cover or dim the alarm clock, or look for one that illuminates only when touched. Again, if you have to use a computer late at night, download the software f.lux, which changes the brightness and tone of your screen in time with sunset and sunrise, reducing evening blue light.

B. Create a relaxing sleep area that is quiet and free of clutter.
Your bedroom should be relatively organized and peaceful. The sight of clothes strewn all over the floor or furniture, boxes or books toppling over, and tangled cords can make you feel stressed and interfere with your ability to relax. A messy room can also be dangerous if you have to get up at night to use the bathroom. Set your room to an appropriate temperature. Most people sleep better when it’s cool (around 67 F); others sleep better at a neutral temperature. Use white noise if needed. If you live in an urban environment and you tend to pop awake at the slightest sound, then a steady source of white noise could really help. Using some nature sounds on your iPhone, or even just turning on a fan (or an old radio turned to static) can be enough to drown out other noises and lull you to sleep. A HEPA filter can also work well for this purpose, serving double duty by keeping your air cleaner as well.

IV. How to wake up.

While a jarring alarm will certainly get us out of bed, it doesn't exactly start the day on an enjoyable note. Not only that, it jacks up our stress hormones immediately, starting our day in “fight or flight” mode.

Here are some more humane solutions.

A. Take advantage of natural rhythms.
Sleep occurs in multiple stages, alternating between deeper and lighter sleep. We sleep more and more lightly as the night goes on. If we wake up at just the right moment in our lighter sleep stages, we’ll feel reasonably good and snap into alertness quickly. But if we’re forced to wake up while in a deep sleep phase, we’ll feel groggy, disoriented, and sleepy — suffering from sleep inertia. There are many gadgets and apps that will sense your sleep cycles and wake you up when you’re sleeping your lightest.

For example, the iPhone SleepCycle app or SleepBot will wake you up within a pre-specified time window when it senses your wakefulness.

You can also track your sleep with gadgets and apps like Zeo or the Fitbit, which will help you gauge where to improve your sleep and wake routines.

B. Wake up to light.
The human body is designed to get sleepy when it’s dark and to wake when it is light.
However, it is not always feasible to wake up with the sun, and this is especially true if you use light blocking shades to keep your room as dark as possible.

Use a dawn-simulating alarm clock. Research shows that when people are slowly roused by gradually increasing light levels, they feel much more alert and relaxed than when they’re woken up by a sudden, blaring alarm.

Increasing light has also been shown to raise cortisol in the morning (which is an important signal to your body to wake up), and to improve sleep quality.

C. Wake up to soft, slowly-building noise.
Some types of alarm clocks (such as the Progressive Alarm Clock app) will also gradually increase noise or music, so that you’re slowly lifted out of sleep rather than being suddenly whacked in the ear with a loud morning DJ.

D. Get moving right away.
When your alarm goes off, one of the worst things you can do is hit snooze.  Snoozing seems to increase sleep inertia. Instead, once that alarm goes off, simply sit up and put your feet on the floor.  Start shambling towards the bathroom, or anywhere else that isn’t your bed.

E. Expose yourself to more light.
Whether you wake to a dawn-simulating alarm clock or not, continue to expose yourself to light as soon as possible after waking.  This will stop melatonin production and increase your wakefulness.

Throughout the day, get as much light as you can.  Most folks can sneak outside for 5-10 minutes. Run errands at lunch or eat outside. Do as much as you can to get that sunshine. The more bright natural light you can get during your normal waking time, the more your body will know to gear down at your normal sleeping time.

V. Throughout each and every day.

A. Keep alcohol and caffeine moderate.
Genuinely restful and restorative sleep comes from deep sleep. Even though it seems like booze is relaxing, more than 1-2 drinks in the evening can interfere with deep sleep, as can too much caffeine. So limit alcohol to the suggested amounts (max of 2 drinks per night for men and 1 per night for women), and reduce caffeine after 2 pm. Otherwise, although you may “sleep” for 7 hours, your sleep won’t be high quality, and you won’t get the recovery benefits.

B. Eat and drink appropriately.
Having a large meal immediately before bed can disrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep.  Instead, eat a regular-sized (or even smallish) meal a few hours before bedtime. A nice blend of protein, carbs and fats will help to keep you satiated, and might even improve your ability to fall asleep as your brain converts carbs to serotonin. In addition, try to limit your fluids 2-3 hours before bedtime. Drinking too much liquid shortly before bed can result in frequent waking for bathroom breaks. While total sleep time is important, uninterrupted sleep time is even better.

C. Exercise regularly.
Exercising regularly helps normalize circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system, and regulate endocrine function. However, save the intense exercise for during the day, if possible — a weights or interval workout in the evening can rev us up and make it tougher to get to sleep.


Just like you can’t go from 0 to 100 first thing in the morning, you can’t do the reverse at night — going from “on” to “off” in a few minutes. Thus, the first step to getting more and better sleep is to create a nighttime routine and environment that tells your body that you are preparing to go to sleep. Over time, if you’re consistent, your body will start the process of gearing down automatically.

Make good sleep a priority. Your physical, mental, and emotional well being will thank you. Zzzzzzzzzzz! - Amber St. Claire

Just cause I thought this was hilarious and fitting for Amber's blog post. - Erica

Just cause I thought this was hilarious and fitting for Amber's blog post. - Erica