We’re wrapping up a series on blood sugar. Seriously you guys, this topic is so important. And now more than ever. The mainstream media isn’t great about sharing the data that researchers are finding on the relationship with COVID moralities and metabolic syndrome, but it’s incredibly frightening!!!
The Lancet recently published some data from a study they performed in England looking at the relationship between COVID deaths and diabetes. They found that type 1 and type 2 diabetes were both independently associated with a significant increased odds of in-hospital death with COVID-19.
Obviously all of this data is new, but the relationship between metabolic syndrome and pretty much every other disease is NOT new. The Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2004 (a long time ago!) that the presence of the metabolic syndrome was associated with a 1.4-fold increase in the risk of all-cause mortality for both men and women, and with a 2.3-fold increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality for men and 2.8-fold for women.
Metabolic syndrome is a series of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Those conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels. So obviously we need to be mindful of ALL of those conditions, but blood sugar is one that can affect EVERYONE (including lean athletes) regardless of their age and sex and often times people have no idea they have pre-diabetes.
Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes can both be reversed pretty easily with more mindfulness around diet and lifestyle. So if you haven’t read the last 3 posts on the diet portion of how to balance your blood sugar, start there. If you have, and you’ve dialed in your diet but your blood sugar is still high, you’re in luck. Because that is exactly what we’re talking about this week!
In private practice, I have yet to find a client with high blood sugar who only has to adjust their diet to get back into normal blood sugar ranges! Usually, there are lifestyle factors that also need to be adjusted. So let’s dive into what those are...
Healthy Adrenal Function
Phase 1: Hyper-Cortisol This is the first sign that the body is not handling the stress load optimally. On test results, you see high levels of cortisol throughout the day. Symptoms are typically: anxiety, low immunity, restlessness and insomnia.
Phase 2: Resistance Response This phase is often called the “wired and tired” phase. Here, additional hormone irregularities are seen (especially with blood sugar, electrolyte imbalances and low sex hormones) which can lead to mood and sleep issues along with frequent energy crashes.
Phase 3: Hypo-Cortisol Often described as exhausted, at this phase people are typically feeling completely wiped out. Simple tasks become difficult, motivation across the board is lacking, and people are often described as being “tuned out.” Symptoms are typically: depression, chronic pain all over the body, low immunity and additional hormone imbalances.
It can not be emphasized enough that certain supplements can make your stress pattern worse if they are used incorrectly. If adding supplements to your daily routine to help ease mental stress and support healthy adrenal function is important to you, talk to a knowledgeable practitioner about your symptoms before starting a protocol.
With that said, some of the more common supplements used are:
LICORICE ROOT- For people who do not produce enough cortisol. It has been found to improve energy levels and help regulate cortisol levels.
CURCUMIN- a compound with antioxidant qualities found in turmeric. It has been found to enhance mood and reduce inflammation (especially in the brain). Note: Curcumin extracts are the most potent form of turmeric supplements that will give you the most curcumin compound. Concentrated extracts pack up to 95% curcumin, whereas turmeric in powder form usually contains around 3% curcuminoids.
PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE- a phospholipid found in cells that influence immune function and muscle metabolism. It has been found to help rebalance cortisol levels following exercise.
ASHWAGANDHA- an adaptogenic adrenal supplement. It has been found to improve resistance to stress along with decreasing depression and anxiety.
In an athletes off-season, taking more down time can be critical to recovery. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you as you take more time doing more relaxing activities (like paddleboarding, yoga, walking, etc) can help you learn where your balance point is.
One athlete may be completely fine doing 3-4 interval sessions per week, where another athlete may become completely exhausted doing that. You can learn to identify what triggers a stress response in you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of these stressful situations and the off-season is a perfect time to do that.
We call it recharging the battery and it’s important! So next time your body is screaming for a nap, listen. It’s okay to skip a few training sessions to allow your body to recover from life's chronic stressors. It doesn’t make you lazy...it makes you smart.
You’ll be surprised how much harder you can hit your next training session (or even your entire next season) when you learn how to find a better balance between your life’s stressors and relaxation!
Take for example the infamous sleep deprivation experiment in 1959 by New York DJ Peter Tripp. He locked himself in a glass booth located in Time Square and made it 201 hours (8.4 days) before falling asleep (the last 66 hours he required stimulants to remain awake). On day 3, Tripp was found laughing hysterically at nothing, and following that day, he continued to hallucinate, reporting mice and kittens running around the room. By the end of the experiment, Tripp was convinced that he was no longer himself, but an impostor. After the experiment ended, Tripp’s family reported permanent changes to Tripp’s personality, including moodiness and depression.
Sleep has been shown to have a direct impact on overall health, lifespan, productivity, safety and ability to learn. Sleep is one of the top five reasons that patients visit a clinic for care every year and lack of sleep has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimers disease, and even cancer. Along with being an integral part of the recovery and adaptive process between bouts of exercise, accumulating evidence suggests that increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and competitive success.
This week, we’re focused on sleep. Why? Because it’s something that everyone, especially athletes, tend to neglect when we get busy. We think that shortening our sleep by just one hour will help us get more done, and won’t really affect our health and/or performance. But will it? With COVID thrusting many athletes into an early off season, now is the PERFECT time to start working on finding YOUR perfect sleep routine. To convince you why this is so important, we’re going look at the physiology of sleep, but also the consequences of not getting enough quantity and quality sleep, how to get more (and better) sleep, what to do if your life isn’t set up for optimal sleep, and why prioritizing sleep is something you want to do right now to help your performance in the future!
The Science Behind the Circadian Rhythm
Since our circadian rhythm affects everything from our digestion and appetite, to blood pressure and sleep, a circadian rhythm disruption can have some serious consequences on recovery after exercise and overall health. A study on mice published in 2005 showed the health effects of mutations to a gene that aids in regulating the circadian rhythm in mice, known as Clock. In the study, Clock gene mutant mice were shown to have a greatly altered diurnal feeding rhythm, were excessively hungry, became obese, and developed many metabolic syndromes including hyperlipidemia (an abnormally high amount of fats in the blood) and hyperglycemia without proper insulin production (the hallmark of type 2 diabetes). These results indicate that the circadian Clock gene network plays an important role in mammalian energy balance that involves a number of central and peripheral tissues, and disruption of this network can lead to obesity and the metabolic syndrome in mice.
There are several studies that have looked at how a disrupted circadian rhythm can affect endurance performance, most of which have demonstrated that sleep deprivation inhibits performance. In a small study of 11 male subjects who completed a 30 minute self-paced treadmill test after a normal night sleep and again after 30 hours of sleep deprivation in a randomized order, the subjects distance covered was decreased after sleep deprivation, without differences in thermoregulatory function or oxygen consumption. Several other studies on endurance athletes have found a decrease in time to exhaustion along with an increased rate of perceived effort after just one night of reported poor quality sleep. Preexercise muscle glycogen stores have also been found to be decreased after sleep deprivation, suggesting an alteration in endogenous fuel availability that could translate into impaired performance in endurance sports.
With so much evidence leaning towards optimizing sleep to improve athletic performance and optimized health, there is no reason why learning more about how you can optimize your sleep routine shouldn’t be a focus of your off-season. The off-season is a perfect time to test different activities, methods, foods, workouts, etc to find what works best for your body. N=1 couldn’t be more true in this situation. For one person, eating dinner at 7pm may not affect their sleep whereas another person may not get into deep sleep if they eat after 5pm. Use the quality time you have WITHOUT a race on your calendar to fine tune your sleep routine.
The Sleep Cycle
Non-REM Stage 1
Starts at the onset of sleep and lasts for approximately 20 minutes. In stage 1, our heart rate slows down, our temperature begins to drop, and our brain transfers learned muscle memory into permanent memory. Stage 1 of Non-REM sleep is very light sleep and one can be easily woken in this stage.
Non-REM Stage 2
This is the transitional period between light and deep sleep.
Non-REM Stage 3
This stage is considered complete deep sleep. In stage 3, Delta brain waves are produced which help move blood to the muscles to initiate recovery and repair, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated which supports immune function, and human growth hormone is produced.
REM Stage 4
Stage 4 is considered REM sleep and the stage in which we dream. In stage 4, the hippocampus (part of the brain) transfers information to the neocortex and our memories are formed.
These are just some of the reasons that Dr. Matthew Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and other sleep experts say that sleeping from midnight until 8am is not the same thing as sleeping from 10pm-6am because the shift from non-REM to REM sleep happens at certain times of the night regardless of when you go to bed. If improved memory and tissue growth/repair isn’t enough of a reason to get to bed early, maybe learning more about the consequences of poor sleep will be.
Consequences of Poor Sleep
Here are a few studies, which are reminders that things like blood sugar, weight, and memory are not affected from our diet alone!
Blood Sugar/Insulin Resistance
A study performed at the Leiden University Medical Center took 9 healthy individuals, with healthy blood sugar response, and restricted sleep for one night (subjects were allowed to sleep from 1am to 5am). The result was insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in all subjects.
Data from large published studies, including: Sleep Heart Health Study; Finnish Type 2 Diabetes Study; Quebec Family study; Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; National Health Interview Study; and Isfahan Healthy Heart Program, have all demonstrated that middle-aged to elderly subjects with self-reported short sleep duration are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are at higher risk for impaired glucose tolerance.
A 2004 study took 1,024 volunteers from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, a population-based longitudinal study of sleep disorders, and looked at morning fasted blood samples for serum leptin and ghrelin (two key opposing hormones in appetite regulation), adiponectin, insulin, glucose, and lipid profile. Results showed that participants with sleep shorter than 8 hours per night had reduced leptin (the satiation hormone) and elevated ghrelin (the hunger hormone) as well as higher BMI.
A study published in 2009 took 153 healthy men and women and had them report on sleep duration and sleep efficiency for 14 days. Subsequently, participants were quarantined, administered nasal drops containing a rhinovirus, and monitored for the development of a clinical cold for 6 days. Results showed poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to a rhinovirus were associated with lower resistance to illness.
A study published by the University of Bristol which examined working men and women looked for the associations between sleep duration, cardiovascular disease risk factors and mortality, while also taking into account the perceived stress of the individuals. The findings: the men and women who reported sleeping fewer than 7 hours in a 24 hour period had greater risk of dying from any cause over a 25 year period than those who reported sleeping 7-8 hours in a 24 hour period.
9 Foundations of Sleep
To ensure the right quantity and quality of sleep, there are some sleep foundations you should follow:
Follow a sleep schedule. Every single night at the same time, you should start a series of actions that should stay the same from night to night. The sun setting can be a good trigger to start this routine in the winter, however, in the summer when days are long, setting a standing alarm can help remind you that it’s time to finish eating, put on your blue light blocking glasses, turn off all screens and start winding down.
Eat a diet that promotes quality sleep at the right times.
- Eat a dinner full of melatonin rich foods, such as: tart black cherries, almonds, walnuts, corn, rice and ginger root.
- Avoid caffeine, including chocolate after 12pm
- Avoid alcohol before bed
- Avoid large meals and beverages 2 hours before bedtime
Avoid intense exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime. If your fasted morning blood sugar is higher than ideal, choose 20-30 minutes of a relaxing activity before bed, like gentle walking.
Get your daily dose of natural sunlight for a minimum of 30 minutes per day. If you work in front of a computer all day and wear blue light blocking glasses, make sure you take them off periodically throughout the day and allow your eyeballs to see the natural sunlight. If you can not get out into the natural sun, consider morning exposure to artificial light for at least 1 hour.
Only nap before 3pm.
Schedule time for relaxation for at least 20 minutes before bed. Espom salt baths, foot soaks, reading and meditation are all great options.
Create a bedroom that is most conducive for proper sleep.
- Avoid electronics in the bedroom
- Create complete darkness
- The general suggested temperature for an ideal night's sleep is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Invest in comfortable and non-toxic clothing, pillow, mattress and linens.
Avoid medications that cause stimulation before bed. Some examples of these medications are hypertension, allergy, and thyroid medications. Consult with your doctor about options for taking these medications at earlier times of day in order to optimize your ability to sleep.
Don’t stay in bed if you haven’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes. Instead, move to another room and do something relaxing, like read a paperback book. Avoid jumping onto your phone to check social media, emails or play games. Once you start to feel tired again, move back into bed.
If you are consistently following the 9 sleep foundations above, and are still experiencing constant fatigue and irritability during the day after getting 7-9 hours of sleep, waking up several times during the night, staying awake for more than an hour without being capable of falling back to sleep, or taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, it might be time to seek out a sleep specialist for help.
Helpful Tools for a Good Night's Sleep
For more info on the topic of sleep, I love Matthew Walkers book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. He also did a really great podcast with one of my favorite doctors, Dr. Peter Attia which you can find HERE.
If you think you’re getting enough quality sleep, but aren’t quite sure, definitely look into getting an Oura Ring. The Oura Ring is exactly that, a ring that you wear every day and every night that tracks everything from heart rate, body temperature, HRV, sleep cycles and more. Oura interprets these signals while you sleep so you can wake up to the insights you need to take on the day. With the data, you are empowered to understand and define your health on your terms, based on your personalized data. I have personally been using an Oura ring now for over a month and have already been surprised at how small changes to my evening routine have had a profound effect on my deep and REM sleep (and therefore my recovery).
Temperature has a pretty pronounced effect on your sleep cycles. If you share your room and/or household with someone who doesn’t love the bedroom between 60-67F, consider getting a Chili Pad. This pad lives between your mattress and your sheet and can help control the temperature on your side of the bed. You can even set the temperature to increase in the early morning hours to wake you up peacefully. Say goodbye to the BEEP BEEP BEEP alarm. That’s a terrible way to wake up!
By taking the time now (while you have it), to learn more about what helps you get better sleep (which translates into better performance) you can apply your own best practices when it matters most.
Sure, eating dinner at 5pm may not be your reality year around, but if you find that eating early unlocks more deep and REM sleep, don’t you want to make that a priority during your hard training weeks and leading into your future events?
Now’s the time to start playing and tracking some metrics. If you can’t afford a trackable device like an Oura ring, start a journal.
Change 1 thing for 7 days in a row and see if you notice a difference in how you feel the next day in regards to your energy, recovery, mood and hunger levels. You might be surprised how small changes can have a big impact on your health and performance!
- Mesarwi, Polak, Jun and Polotsky, Sleep disorders and the developments of insulin resistance and obesity. Endocrinology Metab Clin North Am. 2013 Sep; 42(3): 617-634
- Taheri S, et al. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index, 2004
- Cohen S, et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold, 2009
- Heslop P, et al. Sleep duration and mortality: the effect of short or long sleep duration on cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in working men and women, 2002
“I want to fit into my skinny jeans again.”
“I want to feel stronger.”
“My doctor told me I need to be more active.”
“I want to be able to play with my grandkids when I’m 90+ years old.”
Whatever your initial reason was for starting, most of us continue to participate in our favorite sport because we have fallen in love with the feeling we have doing it, and hopefully, it makes us a healthier, happier version of ourselves!
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, many of us became event driven. My circle of training friends had a running joke for years that you never completed an event without having already signed up for at least one other (usually it was like 3-4 other events). This is completely fine to be motivated by races on the schedule, however, let’s not lose sight of why we do all of this. With most of the races being wiped off the calendar in 2020, it’s a fantastic opportunity to reframe your lens and refocus on why you are an athlete.
There's More to Life Than Training!
It involves many other aspects of your life like nutrition, sleep, recovery, strength, mobility, relationships, and so much more.
But the reality is we ALL only have 24 hours in a day. And despite what you may be trying to convince yourself of, we ALL need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. That means that when we get into the thick of training, in order to thrive in one area (our athletic goals), oftentimes other areas are neglected.
In the peak of an ironman training block, I can guarantee you’re giving up time with your non-triathlon friends or family members to get in the long days of training. Hopefully you’re not sacrificing sleep, but some athletes do.
With loads of swimming, biking and running on the schedule, family dinners are often sacrificed for strength training and mobility sessions. This is all fine and dandy for a period of time, but at some point, balance has to be achieved.
Keep focusing on swimming, biking and running and neglecting your strength and mobility (especially as an aging athlete), I can guarantee your risk of injury goes up! Same thing for athletes who only have friends within their training circle. What happens when you get hurt and you can’t join your friends for runs anymore? Your social life disappears? No! We need to have people in our lives who understand, love and support our efforts as endurance athletes, but DO NOT like to play our game.
The Most Common Areas of Neglect
The most common areas of neglect I have seen over the years with endurance athletes are:
- Strength and mobility
This month, I’m giving my tips on how to use this time to be productive to improve your health and wellness and avoid taking massive steps backwards!
You do these sports because you want to be healthier, right?! Throwing in the towel because your events have all been canceled is most definitely NOT my advice. Sure, take some time off if you haven’t done that already but then use this time to optimize your health and athleticism so you can come back in 2021 (or whenever we’re getting back to racing) a better version of yourself.
Honestly, do you really want to start all over again?
Strength & Mobility
Majority of our resiliency is terrible. It seems like every time I hear about someone taking a training break due to an injury, it’s from some regular daily life event, like lifting a grand kid, or trying to get up off the floor, or my favorite from last week was driving a boat.
Seriously people...we are supposed to be “fit.” And if you want your fitness to apply beyond the moments in your life where you are doing your specific sport, you have to be strong and mobile!
During the season, most of us are afraid of taking what limited time we have for training away from our specific sport and using it for strength training. But with no specific race on the calendar, now is the perfect time to focus on strength and mobility.
Areas like the core, glutes and hamstrings (the posterior chain), lower back, and upper body seem to be “weak spots” for most endurance athletes. By replacing 3-4 workouts each week with a strength training session, athletes can see a significant improvement in power and resiliency when they get back to pre-season training next season.
Easy Workouts You Can Do at Home
To make things easier for you, here are 4 workouts (1 in each category) that you can try:
- Dumbbell Bench Press 4x10 with 90 seconds rest between sets
- Superset: Dumbbell Lateral Raises 3x12 - Tricep Dips- Max Effort (no more than 15)*
Rest 2 minutes between supersets
*If 15 is easy, add weight to your lap or put on a weight vest to make it more challenging.
- Single Arm Dumbbell Bent Over Rows on a Bench 4x10 with 90 seconds rest between sets
- Superset: Dumbbell Bent Over Reverse Fly 3x15 - Max Effort Pulls Ups (no more than 15)*
Rest 2 minutes between supersets
*If 15 is easy, add weight by putting on a weight vest or adding weight around your waist with a weight belt.
- Single Leg Dumbbell/Kettlebell Deadlift- 4x8 each leg with 90 seconds rest between sets
- Superset: Weighted Glute Bridge Ups- 3x15 - Weighted Toe Raises- 3x15 - Banded Lateral Monster Walks- 3x20 each direction
Rest 2 minutes between supersets
- Dumbbell Front Squat- 4x8 with 90 seconds rest between sets
- Superset: Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Walking Lunges- 3x10 each leg- Squat Jumps- 3x10
Rest 2 minutes between superset
You Don't Have to Do This Alone!
So if any of these movements make you uncomfortable or you’d prefer to have someone with training in strength training watch you do it, then you should find a professional to help you!
So many personal trainers have been forced to become creative during this unusual time when many gyms are closed. I have distance clients who are using the strength training programs that I personally have created for them and hired personal trainers in their home town to meet them at an outdoor park and walk them through it.
There are also tons of personal trainers and coaches (including myself) who have their clients video themselves doing a movement and send it to them for critique. Honestly, you don’t have to be face to face with a trainer or coach to get help with strength training. So no more excuses. Start picking up heavy shit and become a better athlete!
Obviously as a coach I’m a huge believer in following a structured program (both for endurance training, strength training, AND nutrition). It is the best way to optimize health and your future performance.
Don't Look Back on 2020 and Wish You Did Something Differently
If it’s not, I can still help point you in the right direction so you feel like you used your “off time” in 2020 wisely and don’t look back at this time in 2021 and wish you had done something different.
“I don’t regret the things I’ve done, I regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance.” -Unknown
Iron deficiency is near and dear to my heart because I struggled with it for YEARS (and still do if I’m not being mindful and proactive with my iron intake). The fatigue I struggled with was no joke. I chalked it up to over-training, but even after days off, I still felt horrible. And I know I’m not alone. Endurance athletes, especially female runners, have been identified as being high risk for developing iron deficiency. A recent review from The University of Western Australia, Edith Cowan University, and the WA Institute of Sport found that up to 35 percent of female athletes are iron deficient compared to about five percent in the general female population. Male athletes were also iron deficient by approximately 11 percent compared to one percent of the general male population.
Exercise can inhibit the body's ability to absorb iron which puts athletes at a higher risk for iron deficiency than those that don’t exercise regularly. This poses a large concern for athletes because iron deficiency can leave you feeling lethargic and fatigued, it can hinder your ability to recover properly from exercise and in general, it reduces your athletic performance.
THUMBS DOWN to that!
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
Iron deficiency is a condition resulting from too little iron in the body. It is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the world.
Anemia is a condition in which you do not have enough hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that is responsible for carrying adequate oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. Iron plays a role in the production of hemoglobin in the body, which explains why iron deficiency and anemia are so closely related.
So if you want to breathe easy during exercise, you can see why having enough iron is important! You can also see why one of the leading symptoms of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia is shortness of breath.
Other symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations
- Hair loss
- Cold sensitivity (or low body temperature)
- Loss of interest in daily activities such as work, recreation and relationships
- Restless leg syndrome
- Pica (the desire to chew ice)
Vegans and vegetarians are also at high risk for iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. This is because the most absorbable form of iron is mostly available in animal products. What limited iron is available from plant based foods is limited in its absorption due to the phytic acid found on these foods. Soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting can help make the iron in plant foods more bioavailable.
Any condition that results in blood loss can lead to iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia, including heavy menstruation, pregnancy, frequent or excessive blood donation, fibroids, digestive tract disease (including infections), surgeries and accidents.
Alcohol and aspirin abuse have also been shown to reduce iron levels in the body.
- Hemoglobin- commonly found on a standard blood panel called a CBC. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein in the blood that carries iron and oxygen to cells. Functional ranges for hemoglobin should be between 13.5-14.5 for females and 14-15 for males.
- Hematocrit- also found on the CBC, this marker provides the percentage measures of red blood cells in the blood. Functional ranges for hematocrit should be between 37%-44% for females and 39%-55% for males.
- Serum ferritin- which is often included in a standard iron panel, is the most reliable indicator of total body iron status and reflects the body’s iron stores. This marker helps medical professionals distinguish between two common forms of anemia: iron deficiency anemia and anemia of chronic disease. Functional ranges for ferritin should be between 60-122 for females, between 60-263 for postmenopausal women and 33-236 for males. However ranges between 60-80 are most ideal for proper thyroid function.
- Serum iron- part of an iron panel and measures the amount of circulating iron that is bound to transferrin and serum ferritin. This is a better marker for iron overload. Functional ranges for serum iron should be between 85-130.
- Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC)- part of an iron panel and measures the blood's capacity to bind iron with transferrin. Functional ranges for TIBC should be between 250-350.
A diagnosis of iron deficiency can only be made by a medical professional when a person has both low hemoglobin and hematocrit, low mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) (functional ranges should be between 27.7-32), low serum ferritin and high red blood cell distribution width (RDW)(functional ranges should be between 11.7%-15%). Iron deficiency without anemia is diagnosed when a person has a normal hemoglobin, but below normal serum ferritin.
It is not uncommon to see a CBC ordered on a standard annual blood panel, but no iron panel ordered. If you check your latest blood panel and you don’t see an iron panel, check your CBC for both hemoglobin and hematocrit. If one or both are low, it is in your best interested to talk to your doctor about ordering an iron panel.
If you need help ordering or interpreting your blood work to see if you show signs of iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, reach out to me. I’m happy to review your blood panel and help point you in the right direction. You should never self-diagnose an iron deficiency.
There are many reasons your iron panel can look off on paper and just taking an iron supplement without consulting a professional can result in iron overload, which is a very dangerous condition. Iron overload can cause hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes, hyperpigmentation of the skin and cardigan failure.
While I am a huge advocate of incorporating lots of plants into your meals, it has been found that those with iron deficiency should reduce their intake of all plant based foods and instead focus their meals around iron-rich foods.
If you are a vegetarian due to ethical reasons, then some of the foods you can focus on to up your iron levels include:
- Sprouted legumes
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron for all age groups of men and postmenopausal women is 8 mg/day; the RDA for premenopausal women is 18 mg/day. Here is a list of some iron rich food sources:
- 3.5 ounces of canned clams- 29.45mg (the iron content in canned clams can widely vary, so be sure to check the label before purchasing)
- 6oz beef- 9.3mg
- 3 ounces of oysters- 7.8mg (also high in zinc!)
- 1 cup white beans (soaked)- 6.6mg
Additionally, the level of iron will increase in your foods if you cook them in a cast iron skillet. This is especially true for high-acid foods such as applesauce, eggs, and tomato-based recipes as these foods encourage the leaching of iron out of the pan. The greater the acidity of the food and the longer you cook it, the more iron is transferred. Generally speaking, one cup of acidic foods cooked in a cast iron pan will gain about six to eight milligrams of iron. Note that highly acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus juices, should not be cooked in a brand new cast iron pan until the cookware has been highly seasoned.
You can achieve a higher bioavailability of dietary iron by increasing the content of food components that enhance iron absorption, such as ascorbic acid, and by decreasing the content of inhibitors, such as phytates and tannins found on unsoaked plant foods. As previously mentioned, aim for 500-1000mg of vitamin C per meal to optimize the absorption of iron.
The body has a remarkable ability to regulate the uptake of iron through the intestines, so overdose with food consumption is rare and usually only occurs when people take supplements.
One more reason to also optimize your diet before jumping to taking a supplement!
Iron is present in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed from the gut with greater efficiency. Therefore, when supplementation is necessary, look for a natural form of heme iron, like this one.
When taking iron supplements, try to avoid taking it with meals or other supplements as this can decrease the absorption of the iron. Since iron supplements can have unwanted side effects, I typically recommend clients take their iron supplement at least 2 hour after their last meal of the day, right before bed.
There are many causes of iron deficiency which include poor iron intake, menstrual losses, gastrointestinal bleeding, foot strike hemolysis, and even sweat losses. For these reasons, athletes are a higher risk for iron deficiency than sedentary people. Female athletes, runners and vegan/vegetarian athletes are also higher risk.
If you have or are experiencing shortness of breath (especially with every day activities like walking up a flight of stairs), fatigue, heart palpitations, hair loss, dizziness, depression, cold sensitivity (or low body temperature), loss of interest in daily activities such as work, recreation and relationships, restless leg syndrome or pica (the desire to chew ice), you should get your iron levels tested. Either talk to your doctor about testing options, or reach out to me for testing and a comprehensive evaluation of your blood results.
As with ALL the minerals we’ve discussed this month, iron doesn’t work independently to itself so exploring lifestyle factors and other iron cofactors can have a significant impact on your iron status. Don’t sit back and be fatigued when you can make a few changes to your diet and lifestyle and feel energized again!
Zinc is also required to convert vitamin A into its active form which is required for proper vision, especially at night.
Although a blatant zinc deficiency is rare in the United States (it is estimated that approximately 10% of the adult population in the US is deficient), studies have shown that zinc loss through urine increases by 10-45% after moderate exercise.
Zinc, like many of the other minerals we have been discussing this month, is also lost in sweat.
With many athletes' diets being low in mineral density and an increased rate of mineral loss during exercise, it is no wonder why we see thousands of reported clinical trials and studies devoted to exercise performance and mineral status.
And the findings are clear.
Magnesium, zinc, calcium, copper, and iron appear to be the leading minerals impacted by exercise, with magnesium and zinc impacted the most.
Zinc is a key micronutrient for proper cell division and cell growth, so it’s needed to maintain strength in the muscular and skeletal systems. It also helps with the release of growth hormone, testosterone and insulin-like growth factor-1, all of which build muscle mass and help you maintain a healthy metabolism.
Zinc deficiency has been shown to lead to chronic fatigue and low energy levels because it is a key nutrient when it comes time to absorbing both protein and carbohydrates from our food.
There is no question about the increased needs for minerals in athletes, especially zinc. So let’s take a closer look at the signs of deficiency, risk factors, some real food options for optimizing uptake, testing and even best supplementation practices.
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY
It is not uncommon to see patches of dry skin that lead into acne and/or blisters if the deficiency isn’t resolved.
Other more severe signs of zinc deficiency include:
- Increased infections
- Unable to heal from wounds
- Mood disturbances
- Loss of lean tissue (aka muscles!)
- Hair loss
- Reduced appetite
- Dysregulated sex hormones (especially low testosterone)
- Reduced athletic endurance
- Loss of glucose tolerance
- White spots on your fingernails
There are many plant based foods that contain zinc, but the bioavailability of the zinc is quite low.
This is because of the plant's natural chemical protector, phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to zinc and reduces it’s absorption in the intestines.
Athletes and those that sweat a lot are also at a higher risk for a zinc deficiency because zinc is lost in sweat.
Both inflammation and poor absorption in the digestive tract are also common reasons of zinc deficiency. Therefore, if a zinc deficiency is suspected, both digestive health and overall inflammation should be looked into.
Interestingly, low zinc status has also been shown to affect PMS symptoms in menstruating women.
A small study which measured blood levels of zinc and copper in 10 PMS patients (compared to 10 women without PMS, aka the controls) found that zinc deficiency occurred in PMS patients during the luteal phase (typically days 15-28 of your cycle).
Although this study was small, the differences found in zinc levels in the PMS patients compared to those who did not experience PMS during the luteal phase were significant.
When zinc is not present in adequate levels pre-menstruation, it is not uncommon for women to experience cravings.
If this is you, try adding more zinc into your diet from days 15-28 of your cycle and see if the food cravings reduce and/or disappear.
For a list of foods that can help you identify which nutrients you may be low in, check out my free food cravings list available HERE.
Functional ranges for a plasma zinc test should be between 100-120 mg/dL.
Alternatively, if a blood test is not possible, you can do a zinc taste test (and I HIGHLY recommend doing this!).
The zinc taste test is an easy, inexpensive, at home testing method to assess zinc status based on studies of taste and smell.
To do this test, you will need 5-10mL of aqueous zinc (like Zinc Tally from Metagentics).
Here is how it’s done. Place approximately 2 teaspoons (10mLs) of aqueous zinc in your mouth and hold for 30 seconds. Describe your initial taste according to the following categories (for accurate results, refrain from eating, drinking or smoking for at least one hour prior to the test):
Response 1: No specific taste or other sensation is noticed after the solution has been held in the mouth for up to 30 seconds. This strongly suggests a zinc deficiency and foods rich in zinc and zinc supplementation should be considered.
Response 2: No immediate taste is noted, however, after a few seconds a slight taste develops, variously described as “dry”, “mineral”, “furry”, “sweet”. This suggests a zinc deficiency and foods rich in zinc and zinc supplementation should be considered.
Response 3: Definite, though not strongly unpleasant taste is noted almost immediately and tends to intensify with time. This suggests that zinc is likely inadequate and a strong focus on increasing zinc rich foods and it’s cofactors is strongly suggested.
Response 4: A strong unpleasant taste is noted almost immediately. This suggests that zinc status is sufficient and no zinc supplementation is needed.
The liquid can be swallowed or spit out once the test is completed.
There are many plant based foods that contain zinc, but due to high phytate content in those foods, the zinc has a low bioavailability.
Soaking your nuts, seeds and grains prior to consumption can help decrease the phytic acid and increase bioavailability to the zinc.
Therefore, if you are relying on plant rich sources of zinc, be sure to soak your grains, nuts and seeds first.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is 15 mg for a healthy adult. You can easily get your daily needs by eating any of the following food:
- 6 medium oysters (32 mg)
- 100g watermelon seeds (10.24 mg)
- 4 oz lamb (9 mg)
- 100g pumpkin seeds (7.81 mg)
- 4 oz grass fed beef (5 mg)
If after these have been addressed, a zinc deficiency is still suspected, consider supplementation. Always talk to your doctor about taking any over the counter supplements to ensure they are safe for you and will not interact with any other medications.
According to Chris Masterjohn, PhD, zinc acetate, gluconate, sulfate, citrate, or methionine should be used when supplementing with zinc, and not zinc oxide or zinc picolinate.
Ideally, zinc should be taken on an empty stomach, but if this causes nausea it should be taken with some food and should be taken as far away from phytate-rich meals as possible. The zinc should be spread out as much as possible to ensure better absorption. For example, 15 milligrams three times per day five hours apart is much better than taking 45 milligrams once per day.
Zinc supplementation higher than 45mg per day should never be used unless under medical supervision. Excess zinc consumption can cause a copper deficiency as they compete for the same receptors in the body.
According to a study published in Sports Medicine in 2001, endurance athletes who follow a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and lower fat diet often leads to suboptimal zinc intake in 90% of those athletes. Mild zinc deficiency can be difficult to detect because of the lack of definitive indicators of zinc status. This can put athletes at risk for reduced endurance, loss of muscle mass and at greater risk of stress fractures. Zinc deficiency has been shown to reduce muscle strength and power, so inadequate zinc levels could affect performance during exercise.
The bottom line is you need to get tested. If a plasma blood test is out of the question, get your hands on aqueous zinc and do your own at home zinc taste test.
You don’t want a mineral deficiency hurting your overall health or athletic performance!
2. Chuong and Dawson, Zinc and copper levels in premenstrual syndrome, FERTILITY AND STERILITY, Vol. 62, No.2, August 1994
3. Sports Med. 2001;31(8):577-82.doi: 10.2165/00007256-200131080-00002. Zinc status in athletes: relation to diet and exercise. A Micheletti, R Rossi, S Rufini
Like many, if you are an athlete who spends time recreating outdoors, you might suspect that your vitamin D levels are adequate.
Maybe. But maybe not.
The latest research being done on vitamin D levels and sports performance is finding that athletes, even those that regularly workout outdoors, have vitamin D levels that are comparable to those of the general population (aka- low).
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. It is a fat soluble vitamin whose main role is to help the body absorb calcium, magnesium and phosphate through the intestines.
For decades, we have known vitamin D’s role in bone health, but in the last decade, more and more research is being done on vitamin D and the science is finding the importance beyond just bone health.
For example, the evidence is showing that vitamin D also plays a role in:
- Immune function
- Protein synthesis
- Muscle function, especially in fast twitch, type II muscle fibers
- Cardiovascular function
- Inflammatory response
- Cell growth
- Musculoskeletal regulation
In plain English, all things that affect sports performance!
Vitamin D has been shown to improve muscle mass and strength, accelerate the recovery of muscles from intense exercise, prevent muscle degeneration, improved oxygen exchange in the lungs, and improve the structural remodeling of cardiac muscles.
A meta-analysis completed in 2011 that grouped together 23 different studies and was composed of 2313 athletes found that 56% had insufficient levels of vitamin D!
So please don’t assume that just because you regularly workout outside, that you are vitamin D sufficient. Read on to learn more about testing so you can find out exactly what your vitamin D levels are and take action, if needed.
It is not uncommon for people with vitamin D deficiencies to have musculoskeletal pains that are misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Muscle strength, or lack thereof, can also be a sign of a vitamin D deficiency.
Two separate studies from 2011 and 2013 found that low vitamin D levels were negatively associated with muscle strength markers.
That means that the lower the vitamin D levels, the weaker the muscles!
Because the majority of our vitamin D is obtained via sun exposure, things like atmospheric pollution (which decreases the UVB rays from reaching the Earth's surface), the use of sunscreens, latitude, weather and lifestyle will all affect our vitamin D levels.
Athletes who have darker skin are also at a higher risk for a vitamin D deficiency since the pigmentation of the skin can block UVB rays from reaching the skin cells.
One study showed that athletes with darker skin need up to 10 times longer exposure to UVB radiation to obtain the same levels of vitamin D as lighter skinned athletes.
This test was developed in 2017 and measures the concentration of unbound vitamin D which is the biologically active form that can pass through the cell membrane and actually carry out its intended function.
This test also measures vitamin D obtained from all sources (sun, food and supplements).
Protein bound vitamin D levels can also be measured by a blood test.
However, the issue here is that your body can have a problem converting the bound vitamin D to unbound vitamin D. If that is the case, and you only measure the protein bound vitamin D levels, you may get a “normal” result but still have inadequate active vitamin D., but if there is dysfunction in the unbinding process, this test will be irrelevant.
When getting a vitamin D test done, you should refer to the functional 25(OH)D range for optimal vitamin D which is between 30-40 ng/mL.
Since levels of vitamin D are highly affected by sun exposure, I highly recommend all athletes get their vitamin D levels tested twice per year.
One time in the winter and again in the height of summer.
These results will be suggestive of your high and low levels of vitamin D throughout the year and can be used to put together a proper supplementation protocol specific for your body.
Once obtained in the body, both forms must undergo activation within the liver and/or kidneys to be biologically available to our tissues (this is the process I referred to earlier that people may not realize is not working properly. This is why it is important to measure your free or unbound vitamin D levels).
The main source of vitamin D obtained by humans is vitamin D3.
It is created endogenously, primarily through the interaction of sunlight (specifically UVB rays) with our skin. However, a very small amount of vitamin D can also be obtained exogenously through diet.
Consuming adequate levels of vitamin D through the diet is difficult because very few foods contain it naturally. The exceptions are:
- Cod Liver Oil (1 tbsp = 1,360 IU)
- Sockeye Salmon (3 ounces = 645 IU)
- White Mushrooms (½ cup raw = 366 IU)
- Canned Sardines (2 sardines = 46 IU)
- Egg Yolk (1 yolk = 44 IU)
- Beef Liver (3 ounces = 42 IU)
Traditionally, many people obtain vitamin D through foods that have been fortified with it, such as milk, breads, and cereals.
Getting out into natural sunlight without sunscreen or clothes that cover your skin for a short time each day is the best way to increase your vitamin D naturally.
If lifestyle changes still don’t increase your vitamin D levels, and you are consuming foods rich in vitamin D regularly, it may be time to consider supplementation.
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for adults ages 19-70 years old is 600 IU daily.
However, testing is critical before supplementation.
Excess vitamin D intake can increase your risk for soft tissue calcification. And for many, 600 IU of vitamin D will not be adequate to bring their vitamin D levels into a functional range.
Keep in mind that like all micronutrients, vitamin D status is not independent to itself.
Calcium levels, sun exposure and inflammation will all have an effect on your vitamin D levels and need to be addressed if vitamin D status is low.
When supplementing with vitamin D3, one should look for a supplement that also includes vitamin K. Like vitamin D, vitamin K is also a fat soluble vitamin. It is found naturally in leafy greens, fermented vegetables, egg yolks, liver and cheese.
Vitamin D and vitamin K work together in the body as a team.
Vitamin D ensures that your blood levels of calcium are adequate, however, it does not control where the calcium ends up within the body. That is the role of vitamin K.
Vitamin K promotes calcium accumulation in the bones, and reduces the risk of calcification of calcium in the soft tissues, such as your kidneys and blood vessels.
My favorite vitamin D supplement is made by Designs for Health and is called Vitamin D Supreme. Just remember, before just ordering and taking any ol’ vitamin D supplement, test your levels first and consult with your medical provider over the results.
Given the evidence of high incidence of vitamin D deficiency, the relatively few sources of vitamin D in the food supply, and the environmental factors that limit an athlete’s ability to synthesize vitamin D, proper supplementation may become one of the most essential parts of an athlete’s nutrition protocol.
If testing and crunching numbers isn’t your thing, set up a free discovery call to talk to me about how I can help you look at not just your vitamin D status, but how all of your blood markers are working together to create optimal health for you.
1) Role of Vitamin D in Athletes and Their Performance: Current Concepts and New Trends, Nutrients. 2020 Feb; 12(2): 579. Published online 2020 Feb 23
2) Forrest K.Y., Stuhldreher W.L. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr. Res. 2011;31:48–54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001.
Not only can having an active movement routine leave you short on calories if you aren’t being mindful of your true calorie/energy needs, but it can have a serious effect on your micronutrient status as well.
Micronutrients aren’t called “micro” because they are less important than our macronutrients.
They are called micronutrients because we need them in smaller quantities than our macronutrients, but they are equally, if not MORE important.
If you have an active movement routine, you are certainly at a higher risk of becoming micronutrient deficient!
The most common sign of a deficiency are food cravings!
These can come from high stress, low caloric intake, high intake of processed foods (which are void of natural micronutrients) and low protein intake.
When your body becomes micronutrient deficient, you might experience a whole slew of symptoms, including numbness and tingling in hands, legs or feet, balance problems, anemia (which is NOT just an iron deficiency problem!), swelling, weakness, fatigue, impaired immunity, higher risks of injury and even paranoia!
Ugh, no one wants ANY of that! Especially if you are trying to move your body to PROMOTE health, not make it worse!
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially food cravings, you should check out my free food cravings chart to learn which foods you should be targeting to increase in your diet!
This week, we are diving into the details on calcium deficiency, including the signs of deficiency, risk factors, what role calcium plays in athletic performance, real food options for optimizing uptake, testing and even best supplementation practices.
AND, I’m focusing on NON-dairy sources of calcium since dairy tends to be a top allergen for many people (and most don’t even know it!) and we don’t need dairy to be calcium sufficient!
We know that it is essential for the formation of bones and teeth, but it is also critical for optimal athletic performance!
Besides aiding in healthy bones and teeth, calcium aids in:
- proper muscle contraction
- activation of the enzyme lipase which breaks down fat stores to produce energy
- blood clotting when injuries occur
- proper blood pressure stabilization
- insulin sensitivity so you can optimally use glucose during training and racing
- creating normal heart rhythm
Approximately 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones, but cells, particularly muscle cells, and blood also contain some calcium.
There are 2 main hormones in the body that help very precisely control the amount of calcium in the blood: parathyroid hormone and calcitonin.
If you do not consume enough calcium in your diet, these hormones will steal calcium from the bones to meet the needs of the blood and can result in much higher risk of stress fractures.
Since early signs of calcium deficiency are not apparent, a DEXA scan is the best and most accurate way to learn if you have decreased bone density or osteopenia (the less severe form of osteoporosis).
I have to say, I have seen a lot of DEXA scans in my private practice and I am always saddened by the lack of bone density in endurance athletes, especially compared to the DEXA scans I see from strength based athletes. Beyond just a lack of weight bearing activities, this can be one of many signs that there may be a calcium deficiency.
To maintain a proper level of calcium in blood without weakening the bones, it is recommended to consume at least 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium each day from real food sources.
When you're consuming and absorbing enough calcium, your need for vitamin D will go down.
The opposite is true for phosphorus, where when you over consume it, it will drive up your need for both calcium and vitamin D! This is an important reminder that just willy-nilly taking random supplements without really knowing if you truly need them can actually drive a deficiency in other micronutrients!
The goal with micronutrients is about finding balance: not too much and not too little. This is especially true with Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus!
If your head is already spinning just wondering how you’re going to be able to figure out your own balance and needs, don’t worry! Tailoring diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes based on bioindividual needs is what I love to do. So if you’re looking for some help, you can schedule a discovery call to learn about how I can support you!
- Heart palpitations
- Raised blood pressure
- Achy joints
- Tooth decay and brittle nails
However, since these signs appear under more extreme calcium deficiencies, getting a DEXA scan to assess bone density levels can be a helpful first step in discovering potential calcium deficiencies.
Female athletes who have developed amenorrhoea (loss of menstrual periods) or other menstrual irregularities due to low estrogen levels are at greater risk for reduced bone density, fractures and osteopenia. This is because low estrogen levels lead to low calcium levels and can result in bone loss.
25-hydroxyvitamin D is a standard blood test you can obtain from your medical doctor. This marker will measure your serum vitamin D levels. If your results come back low, this can be the result of a calcium deficiency or presence of excess phosphorus.
Functional 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels should be between 30-40 ng/mL.
Parathyroid Hormone, or PTH, can help you understand your Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus levels. A deficiency in either calcium and/or vitamin D levels can raise your PTH levels above normal values.
Functional parathyroid hormone levels should be between 10-55 pg/mL.
Calcitonin, the hormone that is responsive to calcium levels in the blood, can be measured in the serum. Excess consumption of calcium will raise this marker. This marker can be especially useful when someone is supplementing with calcium to ensure excess calcium isn’t being consumed and absorbed.
Function calcitonin levels should be less than 10 pg/mL.
It is always critical when you have testing completed that you work with a practitioner who understands the individual values in addition to how they all work together to create optional health. Having the knowledge about your own body is one thing, but knowing how to use that knowledge to optimize your health is another. Always consult with a knowledgeable medical provider when obtaining and reviewing testing!
If you need help interpreting your lab tests, reach out to me for help!
- Canned fish with bones (sardines, anchovies, salmon with bones)
- Collagen powder (especially marine collagen)
- Collard greens
- Turnip Greens
- Bok Choy
- Soaked white beans
- Broccoli Rabe
Spinach, which is often thought of as a good source of real food calcium, is purposefully left off of the list of recommended foods because spinach is particularly high in a substance called oxylate. Oxylate reduces absorption of calcium!
Another substance that adversely affects calcium absorption is phytate, found in many plant foods and especially legumes, nuts and seeds
Phytates are considered by some to be “anti-nutrients”. They are a plants defense mechanism since, unlike animals, plants cannot run away from their predators! So they have these compounds that help them survive.
Unfortunately for us, phytates can be irritating to our GI system and they can bind minerals in the digestive tract, preventing them from being fully absorbed.
This is why it is recommended to soak and rinse your beans, nuts and seeds prior to consumption, as this can help breakdown the phytates.
Since many plant foods have limited ‘bio-availability’ of calcium, this means that you need to choose several different foods on the list above to meet your calcium requirements if you don’t consume dairy products or animal products with bones!
Vitamins and minerals work in close balance with one another. When one is too high, it can easily deplete another.
So prioritizing a nutrient rich whole food diet that is varied in many different types of foods is always your best approach to nutrient sufficiency. However, there are times when we can’t consume enough food to meet the demand of our nutrients (for example, during times of high training or stress). It is during these times that proper supplementation can be helpful.
If you avoid dairy products, I highly recommend you get a free Cronometer account online and track your calcium intake for a few days. If you find that you are consuming under the daily RDA of calcium (1,000-1,500mg daily), you might want to consider a calcium supplement.
800-1,200 milligrams of calcium citrate should be considered.
Since calcium relies heavily on Vitamin D and phosphorus status, you will also want to keep a close eye on those levels. High levels of phosphorus will deplete calcium levels. A diet high in processed foods is the largest risk factor for excess phosphorus intake. Therefore, avoiding processed foods, especially soda which is high in phosphoric acid, is your best defense against high levels of phosphorus and low levels of calcium.
If you don’t want to miss it, or any future posts or announcements, be sure to sign up for my Wednesday Wellness email where each week I’ll send helpful nutrition tips right into your inbox!
- ¼ cup organic olive oil
- 1 cup of avocado oil mayo (no canola or safflower oil)
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon (about ¼ cup)
- 3-6 anchovies from a can, oil drained
- 2 cloves of fresh garlic
- 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, optional
- 1 tsp local honey
- Add all ingredients to a high powered blender and blend until smooth.
- Place the dressing in a glass jar and store in the fridge for at least 2 hours. The dressing will thicken as it rests in the fridge.
- Pour over your favorite Caesar salad ingredients (I personally love romaine lettuce, roasted brussel sprouts, grilled chicken and homemade gluten free sourdough croutons).
But calories aren’t the only thing you need more of!
Micronutrients are also needed in larger quantities by those who use their body more regularly than the average person, and this is especially true in more extreme weather, like very hot summer days. Nutrient deficiencies are more common than you might think in athletes and these deficiencies can lead to poor performance, injuries, sickness and long term health issues.
This month, I’m focusing on the 5 most common nutrient deficiencies seen in athletes:
- Vitamin D
Each week, we are going to dive into the details on each micronutrient including the signs of deficiency, risk factors, what role each plays in athletic performance, real food options for optimizing uptake, testing and even best supplementation practices.
Get ready to fine tune your diet to optimize your health, performance and recovery...starting with magnesium.
As an athlete, magnesium is particularly important as it is known as the “muscle relaxing” micronutrient. It also aids in protein synthesis, cellular energy production, proper nerve and muscle function, proper immune system function, proper blood glucose levels and calcium absorption (another common deficiency in athletes!).
If you have gone through the “fat adaptation” process, magnesium plays a key role in creating energy (ATP) from fatty acids. So if you live a low carb, high fat lifestyle, this nutrient is critical for you to feel great!
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium ranges from 400-420mg for males ages 14-70 years old, and 310-320mg for women ages 14-70 years old.
It is estimated that approximately 60% of adults in the US do not consume the RDA for magnesium.
Since athletes are typically putting a higher demand on their bodies and are losing magnesium more quickly through sweat and urine than the average Joe, it is recommended for athletes to consume between 500-800mg of magnesium daily.
- Weakness and fatigue
- Muscle twitches and spasms
- Low blood levels of calcium
- Low blood levels of potassium
- Vitamin D deficiency that is resistant to standard treatments
If you’ve ever felt like you have ants crawling under your skin, it’s likely a magnesium deficiency!
Another sign of magnesium deficiency is a craving for chocolate! Chocolate has one of the highest concentrations of magnesium so it is no surprise that we crave the stuff if we are deficient.
(There are other food cravings that can indicate a nutrient deficiency, download my FREE Food Cravings Chart to learn what your food cravings mean!)
The most commonly reported diseases which involve magnesium deficiency are all associated with chronic inflammatory stress conditions. With athletes of all types putting high stress demands on their bodies, this should make magnesium sufficiency a top priority for long term health, optimal performance and adequate recovery!
Protein pump inhibitors and antacids also block the absorption of magnesium, which will cause a deficiency.
Any medication or disease (such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes) that increases the rate of urination will increase the rate of magnesium lost and will create a deficiency.
All regular sauna users and all athletes are at high risk for magnesium deficiency, especially if they workout in hot conditions. Magnesium is lost in sweat, which means summer months or athletes who workout in warm indoor environments are more at risk for a deficiency.
Numerous studies have been conducted over the years on athletes and their nutritional status of magnesium. Time and time again, results come back with a low dietary intake of magnesium across all ages and athlete types. Other tests have also indicated a link between magnesium deficiency and low antioxidant status, suggesting that magnesium plays a role in antioxidant production. Antioxidants are critical to reducing oxidative stress, promoting recovery and enhancing performance, so you want to make sure you have enough magnesium on hand to optimize this.
Other testing methods include:
- Red Blood Cell Magnesium test- which is best for detecting early signs of magnesium deficiency.
- Magnesium Loading Test- which is the gold standard for magnesium testing. However, this test can be impractical for some people as you are required to collect your urine over a 24 hour period.
All 3 tests can be ordered from www.DirectLabs.com. However, having a practitioner trained in reading test results is critically important to setting up the right protocol. If you're interested in exploring testing options, click here to schedule a free discovery call to learn about how I can help you choose the test that's right for you AND evaluate it.
All minerals and vitamins have cofactors, so a low or high test result can be an indication of more than just magnesium status. For example, red blood cell magnesium may be low in a test result which can be an indication that the cofactors needed to drive the magnesium into the cells are missing.
So just taking more magnesium may not help you if you don’t have the nutrients required to get it into the cell.
- Sunflower Seeds ¼ cup (without the shell)= 119mg
- 1 ounce almonds= 80mg
- ½ cup steamed spinach= 78mg
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds= 60mg
- ½ cup cooked black beans= 60mg
- 1 cup avocado= 44mg
- 3.5 ounces of cooked potato (with skin)= 43mg
- ½ cup cooked brown rice= 42mg
Pure Encapsulation Magnesium Glycinate- magnesium glycinate is the most absorbable form of magnesium. Therefore, if you are feeling twingy muscles, palpitations or just a general unsettling in your muscles, this is the best option.
Pure Encapsulation Magnesium Citrate- magnesium citrate is less absorbable by the gut than glycinate and will be more likely to cause loose stool. If constipation is a concern, this is your best option. Start slow (1 capsule in the AM) and slowly increase your dose until more regular bowel movements are obtained regularly. Keep in mind that hydration, and other factors, play a HUGE role in regularity. If you’ve increased your dose to 350mg per day and are still not seeing any regularity in your motility, speak to someone who can help you explore additional options.
Trace Minerals Topical Magnesium Spray or cream- It is not uncommon, especially for athletes, to need a large amount of magnesium to maintain sufficient status and avoid symptoms associated with deficiency. It is also not uncommon to need more magnesium than your GI system can handle without causing loose stool. If you suspect this might be your problem, or you already struggle with loose bowel movements, try applying magnesium topically instead. You can apply a spray or cream to your affected muscles, or take a nice long epsom salt bath. Your skin is the largest absorptive organ in the entire body, so use it to benefit your magnesium status! If you're not into soaking in a epsom salt bath, soak your feet instead. Our feet have over 7,000 nerve ending and the largest pores on our skin surface, so you're able to absorb efficiently through them.
Excessive oral supplementation of magnesium will result in loose stool or diarrhea as magnesium is a laxative. For someone who suffers from constipation, this might sound nice, but keep in mind that you are losing much more than just magnesium when your body flushes like that. Diarrhea is never good long term and is an indication that something is not right in the body.
When it comes to supplements, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional.
How to Know if You are Getting Enough
My favorite free online micronutrient tracker is Cronometer.
If you find that you are not reaching 500-800mg daily, or that you still have any of the signs of magnesium deficiency mentioned earlier, consider taking a clean supplement for a few weeks and see if you notice a difference!
As mentioned above, a magnesium deficiency can impact more than just your magnesium status. Since all minerals are connected to each other, and there are cofactors in the body that work alongside magnesium, a deficiency in one area usually means an imbalance elsewhere.
Next week, I will be talking to you about Calcium. Although so many of us believe we are getting enough calcium in our bodies, the fact is that we don’t OR we are deficient in the cofactors that help our body absorb and utilize this micronutrient.
Make sure you don’t miss next week’s blog by signing up for my weekly newsletter here.
1) Magnesium and the Athlete. Volpe, Stella Lucia PhD, RD, LDN, FACSMAuthor Information
Current Sports Medicine Reports: July/August 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 4 - p 279-283
2) Altura BM, et al. Magnesium depletion impairs myocardial carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and cardiac bioenergetics and raises myocardial calcium content in-vivo: relationship to etiology of cardiac diseases. Biochem Mol Biol Int 1996 Dec;40(6):1183-90.
I know this is not EVERYONE’s situation, but it is starting to happen around the world.
I certainly don’t want to get into a debate on whether or not gyms should be reopening, but whatever you believe, one thing is FOR SURE...we are not starting back up where we left off!!!
Our body is in a different place now then it was pre-quarantine.
And listen closely: THAT IS OKAY!
It’s okay to have lost some momentum during this time. But PLEASE do not re-enter the gym, guns blazing, thinking you’re going to be able to lift or move in the same way you once did without injuring yourself.
I know that can be a frustrating concept to take in but:
- You’re not alone (we’re all in this together!)
- This is a great chance to start all over and work your way up properly.
So instead of getting frustrating and feeling down on yourself about “everything you lost while in quarantine,” here are some tips to help you get back to regular movement safely:
TIP #1 - Cut your workouts in half
If you have had the ability to keep working out at the same capacity, then this may not apply to you. But since the majority of us lost access to equipment and spaces, we likely had to scale back a ton even if we did work out during lockdown.
So, if you were swimming 3,000 yards before quarantine, consider swimming 1,500 yards the first few times you jump back into the pool.
Again, I know you may want to just get right back to your old distances, weights, and reps but I promise if you start low you can build up, without injuring yourself, in no time! Plus, something tell me that half of a your old workouts is still more than your quarantine workouts so look at it as a step forward.
If you are still concerned about getting in enough volume, try tip #2.
I realize that some people can’t logistically make this happen, but if you can, you should.
Since you might not be used to the volume you were doing pre-COVID, allowing your body some reset time between sessions by splitting them up into 2 smaller sessions is wise.
Instead of reinforcing bad form, which can develop when you get tired, allow some rest, maybe even eat a meal or two, and finish up your session later in the day when you are more fresh again.
Then you get to say you’re doing 2-a-days ;-)
This is another one that might be difficult to do for some of you. But rest is crucial, whether you have been consistent with your workout routine or not.
If you were used to only resting 10-20 seconds between sets, consider doubling that for a few weeks.
This will give the muscles a fighting chance of repeating your movement with good form. There is no sense in continuing a workout when your form is completely gone. This will just reinforce improper movement and greatly increase your risk of injury.
Whether you’re going back to the gym or going outside for more frequent workouts, please keep these tips in mind. The last thing you need is to jump into something too aggressive only to find yourself back on the couch due to injury.
We all want to get back to a normal workout routine, but let’s do it safely so that we can ensure long term physical health.
If you’re looking to get back into a regular routine but are not sure where to start or are nervous that you may do it incorrectly, let’s chat! I offer training support alongside nutrition coaching so that you can find what works best for you and allow your body to thrive!
Sure, there are the rare few who forget to eat when they get stressed out, but the majority of people tend to turn food during times of stress to help them feel more in control.
Both situations, ‘stress eating’ and ‘stress starving’, are usually pretty undesirable.
If you are a stress eater, you probably wish you were the type of person who forgot to eat when you are stressed out.
But ask those folks how they feel about forgetting to eat when they’re stressed and they will tell you they hate it!
Forgetting to eat throughout the day has its own consequences like blood sugar drops which inevitably leads to a poor mood (aka “hangry”).
No one wants that. Not the person who's grouchy, and not anyone around them either.
Eating, or not eating, during a stressful time is not always a bad thing.
For example, when you eat certain foods, your body can release serotonin, the happy hormone, which can help you temporarily feel better. On the flip side, when you are stressed out, your digestive system is not functioning at optimal capacity, so skipping a meal isn’t horrible either.
But in both cases, moderation is key. And the only way you are going to be able to moderate these behaviors is if the stress is reduced or eliminated.
Well...easier said than done, especially over the last 3 months!
2020 seems to be turning into the year of chronic stress. If it’s not a global pandemic driving us into total seclusion, it’s unacceptable human behavior driving people into self reflection on their own behavior and that of those around them.
For the last 3 months, people have been under non-stop stress to some degree or another and it’s taking a toll on our health. Since some of these stressors are out of our control, it’s time we looked at how we can use nutrition to mitigate the damage until we start to see some change.
STRESS MANAGEMENT THROUGH NUTRITION
I had the honor of being a guest on “A Little Dabble Do You” with Sara Cory and Heather Daenitz last week.
Sara & Heather are sisters that have always been dabblers; pursuing whatever diversion tickles their fancy. They have an Instagram show called A Little Dabble Do You, where they encourage their followers to pursue their interests by sharing their own with love and enthusiasm.
In every episode, they give you tips on how to get started with whatever they’re discussing, which in my case, was stress management through nutrition.
And since we can ALL use a little help in that department, today I want to share those tips with you!
TIP #1 ADD UNREFINED SEA SALT TO YOUR WATER
When your body is under stress, your body will divert most available nutrients to the production of cortisol, our body’s main stress management hormone.
Without getting TOO deep into the biology, cortisol shares a pathway with a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone controls our sodium balance in the kidneys.
When we are stressed, aldosterone is depleted in order for cortisol to be produced. This can leave you craving french fries and potato chips, when really what your body is trying to tell you is it needs more sodium.
Instead of spending your day eating deep fried salty treats (which is okay SOMETIMES), try adding a small pinch of unrefined sea salt to your water instead.
A small pinch can go a long way! You shouldn’t feel like you’re tasting the ocean!
Speaking of cravings and nutrient depletion, did you download my FREE food cravings chart! It’ll help you understand what your body is REALLY asking for so you can start filling up on real food and possibly stop the cravings all together!
TIP #2 - PRIORITIZE YOUR SLEEP!
During things like global pandemics or even just everyday life, stress is non-stop. From the moment you open your eyes, until you go to bed, you are worried, busy, multitasking, planning, changing plans and just non-stop go, go, go.
That means that sleep is the only time we give our bodies to restore...and boy do we need it!
Think of sleep as putting money into your bank account, while being awake and on the go is taking money out. You need to stay in a positive balance or else you’ll start to run into problems.
To help you with this, here are 2 things you can start doing immediately:
- Eliminate foods and beverages that have caffeine and alcohol. I’m certainly not saying never drink coffee, or eat chocolate, or have a glass of wine, but moderation, especially in stressful times is key to remaining balanced. If you love your caffeine, drink it before 2pm. If you love your chocolate, eat it earlier in the day (chocolate for breakfast anyone?). If you love to have a glass of wine with dinner, look for lower alcohol and lower sugar containing alcoholic drinks instead.
- Add foods that promote the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally released when the sun goes down and we no longer see blue light. There are foods that have been shown to help with this, including tart cherries and walnuts. Check out my cherry frozen yogurt recipe at the end of this blog for a pre-bedtime treat.
TIP #3 - ELIMINATE ANY KNOWN FOOD INTOLERANCES, ALONG WITH GLUTEN AND DAIRY.
As I mentioned earlier, your digestive system doesn’t work so great when you are stressed.
We need to move out of our “fight or flight” nervous system and into our “rest and digest” nervous system to properly digest our foods.
Since this can be a challenge for some people to manage during times like these, you can work hard to avoid the foods that we know are harder to digest.
Both gluten and dairy are very long proteins in our food system. In order to digest them completely, we need our digestive system to be on it’s “A” game, and that is certainly not during times of stress.
So whether you have a gluten or dairy intolerance or not, it’s wise to limit or completely avoid these foods when you’re stressed out.
TIP #4 - AVOID “NAKED” FOODS AND PRIORITIZE NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS.
“Naked” foods are foods that have been highly processed and are void of their natural micronutrients.
These foods can fill you up, but oftentimes leave your body craving more foods.
Why? Because your body needs those micronutrients in order to stay healthy. So if you find yourself craving all sorts of foods in times of stress, it’s probably because you’re deficient in certain micronutrients.
Luckily, I have a FREE FOOD CRAVINGS CHART available for download where you can see which nutrients you likely need when you are craving certain foods.
Generally speaking, eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy wild or pasture raised proteins whenever possible, and using natural fats from things like avocados, coconuts, nuts and seeds can all help you fill your body with the micronutrients you need to be healthy!
DARK CHERRY FROZEN YOGURT RECIPE
The recipe below can help you with Tips #2,3, & 4! Plus, it’s delicious which means you’ll enjoy a hit of endorphins to help your body feel good!
- 6oz unsweetened coconut or cashew kefir
- 4oz frozen cherries
- 2oz raw walnuts chopped
- Place kefir and cherries into a high powder blender or food processor. Process until cherries are mostly blended (some chunks are good!).
- With a spatula, scoop the “frozen yogurt” into a bowl and top with walnuts.
- If your kefir is very thin, you can pour it into ice cube trays and freeze them before blending. This will create a thicker yogurt.
- I own this silly kitchen gadget called a Yonanas. It’s what I use to make all sorts of healthy “ice creams” when I’m feeling like I want it. Not only is it versatile with the ingredients you can use to make your sweet treat, but you can make ONE SERVING. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need in my house is an entire pint of ice cream. To make this recipe, I use frozen kefir from ice cube trays and frozen cherries together to get a really awesome ice cream consistency.
Yes ladies, that chocolate craving around your period can really be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. Or the desire to chew ice can indicate an iron deficiency.
The body is a very intuitive machine and the feedback loop between your body and the brain is strong. If the brain perceives a deficiency, it is not uncommon to see a food craving that might be high in that nutrient.
Chocolate is one the richest sources of food based magnesium and it is not uncommon for clients to notice a significant drop in their chocolate cravings when they increase their intake of magnesium (either through magnesium rich foods or a supplement).
There is no doubt that food cravings can come from other factors as well, such as cultural factors, stressful environments and hormonal fluctuations. But if you suspect you’re not getting cultural or social pressures to eat specific foods, that you are managing your stress well, and your hormones are balanced, maybe it’s time to start feeding your craving with real foods.
Cultural and social pressures to eat
“If you eat all of your dinner, you’ll get dessert.”
“If you get straight “A’s” we’ll go out for ice cream.”
“If I exercise for an extra 20 minutes, I can have that glass of wine.”
We’ve all heard them - or something similar - and even used them with our children and ourselves!
They seem innocent or well-intended but the reality is they create a feedback loop that leaves food as the reward. So regardless of if we are actually WANTING something, we feel compelled to have it because we “deserve it.”
If you have seen any of the work done by Gretchen Rubin, James Clear or Brendan Burchard on creating better habits, then you know that the reward is a VERY important part of creating a new habit, or good behavior.
So, yes, a reward can help you create new habits. However, rewards do not have to be food! When is the last time you allowed yourself to relax for an extra 30 minutes? Or take that yoga class that you’ve been meaning to take? Or go to bed earlier?
There are so many ways to shower ourselves with rewards that don’t involve food!
If you can find ways to replace your food based reward with a non-food based reward, you might just notice your food cravings go away after a while.
Why we crave foods when we’re stressed
Among it’s plethora of roles, cortisol releases stored sugar from the liver so you can fight or flee.
When this sugar is released, it is not uncommon for people to experience sugar cravings. This is because the brain wants to refill those sugar storage cells so if you have to fight or flee again soon, you will be ready!
If you are noticing mostly sugar cravings, you might want to do an honest assessment of your stress levels. Remember that stress doesn’t just come from fighting with your spouse, or your mean boss at work, or financial trouble.
It can also come from dehydration, or lack of restorative sleep and even from eating foods your body is sensitive to.
Why we crave foods when our hormones are fluctuating
Estrogen is an appetite suppressant.
Once ovulation occurs and we enter the second phase of our monthly cycle, estrogen drops and progesterone surges.
Progesterone is an appetite stimulant.
This is an evolutionary response because if you get pregnant, your body wants to make sure you are eating enough calories to sustain your pregnancy. So it is not uncommon to notice stronger food cravings, especially for sugar and/or salt, during the second phase of your cycle.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, this can be a struggle. For some women, just knowing that this will happen during the later phases of their monthly cycle can help them fight the stronger urge to eat more food.
If just knowing this is what is happening doesn’t help you, try increasing your protein and fiber intake during the 3rd and 4th weeks of your cycle. Protein and fiber are slower to digest and can help you feel satiated for longer.
Why we crave foods when our digestive system isn’t functioning well
In order to absorb those nutrients for our body to use, we have to first be able to digest them down into an absorbable form.
Our muscles aren’t made from chicken, they’re made from the individual amino acids that chicken contains. When we eat chicken, we digest it down into the individual amino acids that make it, then we can absorb them. If your digestion isn’t functioning well, it is not uncommon to partially absorb foods, and therefore miss out on some of the nutrients those foods contain.
When that happens, you might start seeing food cravings. In this case, you need to work on optimizing your digestion.
Start by making sure you are chewing your food well. The physical act of chewing starts the mechanical breakdown of our foods into the individual nutrients that make it up. If you already know you are taking your time and chewing your food well, but still experiencing digestive problems (gas, bloating, heartburn, undigested food in your stool and diarrhea are all signs of poor digestion), it might be worth trying to add a digestive enzyme complex to your meals to see if it helps.
One of my favorite digestive enzymes is Pure Encapsulation Digestive Enzymes Ultra, which contains a mixture of vegetarian enzymes developed to promote optimal nutrient bio-availability and absorption.
Food cravings due to nutrient deficiencies
I’m sharing with you a list of the most common food cravings and what nutrients you might really be deficient in that you can download here: FREE FOOD CRAVINGS CHART.
The point here, is that you work towards increasing your intake of nutrient dense foods that contain these nutrients rather than succumbing to unhealthy cravings!
Post it on your fridge at home, or anywhere that you will see it, and work to increase those foods that provide specific nutrients for a few weeks.
Who knows, you might just see your food cravings go away!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to heal your digestion and squash your cravings, you can schedule a free discovery call by clicking HERE.
So far, we've learned how to grow our own herbs for a beautiful dressing. Then, we learned how to grow lettuce from seed. Easy peasy!
Now, it's time to take your homegrown salad from plain to GORGEOUS.
Growing flowers is a passion of mine, and edible flowers are extra special because they are equally beautiful and useful. When you add edible flowers (usually just the petals) to your salad, you are elevating your meal to a whole other level.
Oh, and your dinner guests will think you are tres chic.
Today I'm sharing my top five easy-to-grow edible flowers. These flowers are easy to access either by seed or from your local garden center.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please know that not ALL flowers are edible. Carefully research before you eat flowers that are not on this list, as some can be quite poisonous. For example, sweet peas are a beautiful cut flower, but all parts of that plant are incredibly toxic. Please have fun, but be careful here.
They are so easy to tuck into empty spots in your kitchen garden or edible landscape. Their beautiful, lily pad-like leaves have a lovely bold texture, and their flowers come in so many different colors.
I'm sure you'll find a variety that calls to you. Nasturtiums are not fussy about good soil and will reseed themselves readily if you let them. Who doesn't love free plants?
Growing Note: If you are starting nasturtiums from seed, soak the seeds for 12 hours before planting. Pre-soaking helps to shorten germination time. If you are starting them inside, when it is time to plant them out (usually when they have 6-8 true leaves), take care not to disturb their roots. They do not like to have their roots jostled or pulled. Pop them out of their container and directly into the soil in a full sun location.
Flavor: Peppery, like arugula
Favorite Varieties: Ladybird Rose, Gleam Salmon, Aloha Mix, Vanilla Berry
TWO: VIOLAS & PANSIES
These are cold hardy plants and grow all winter in my Zone 8b garden. They don't love the heat, though, and will likely die back in the summer. But they reseed easily, so you'll see volunteer baby plants popping up when the weather cools off in Fall.
Growing Note: If starting indoors, the seeds require darkness to germinate, so cover lightly with soil.
Flavor: delicately floral
Favorite Varieties: Antique Shades Pansy, Gem Pink Antique Viola, Dynamite Lavender Pansy
Thankfully, we have so many beautiful new varieties than just the original orange type. I pull the petals off the flower and sprinkle them on my salads for a pop of bright color. Use your calendula flowers to make nourishing skin healing salves too.
Flavor: can be spicy, tangy, peppery (reminiscent of saffron)
Favorite Varieties: Ivory Princess, Bronze Beauty, Greenheart Orange
They will seed themselves around quite a bit but are easy to dig up and relocate if needed
Height: 1.5 - 2.5'
Flavor: Reminiscent of cucumber
Favorite Varieties: I only know of one type of borage. It is blue-flowered with fuzzy leaves and stems.
Height: Varies; 2' - 5'
Flavor: delicately floral and slightly sweet
Favorite Varieties: Scented varieties like Crown Princess Margareta or Lady Emma Hamilton, or bicolored petals like my Bulls Eye Rose
- Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower) - I am growing these for the first time this year, but I know they are a popular edible flower. When you pull the petals off the flower head and sprinkle them on your salad, they look like cupcake sprinkles!
- Squash Blossoms - While I wouldn't put these in my salad, they are popular, stuffed with ricotta and deep-fried.
- Vegetable flowers - When my radishes, kale, or broccoli "bolt" or go to flower, I don't consider it a total loss. All of those flowers are edible and taste very much like the vegetable you'd typically eat. Their flowers are usually white or yellow and can be added whole to your salad. They are also beloved by pollinators, so it's a win-win.
- Herb flowers - like the vegetable flowers I mentioned above, most herbs will go to flower during their lifespan, and their flowers are both beautiful and taste like the leaves of the herbs themselves. Some of my favorites are basil, thyme, oregano, and chives.
USING EDIBLE FLOWERS IN YOUR GARDEN DESIGN
I also love planting nasturtiums at the edge of raised beds and letting them spill over the side for a full, billowy look.
Try tucking any of the annual edible plants I mentioned above (basically everything except for the rose) into your kitchen garden and notice how many more pollinators visit.
Mostly, I hope you have fun with it! I know it can seem a little weird to eat flower petals at first, but the flavor is usually mild, and the unique color they add to a dish is worth it. I hope you give it a try!
It has been a pleasure to guest post on the Tri For Real Blog for the past month!
I hope that these posts have shown you just how easy it is to grow food in your backyard, or front yard, or balcony!
I'd love to know that there are more gardeners out in the world eating beautiful, flavorful, and nutrient-rich food.
Show me those gorgeous salads!
Tag me @revivalgardenco if you post the pictures to Instagram. In the meantime, happy gardening!
Keto Berry "Cream Cheese" Bites
⬢ 1 Cup Halved Pecans
⬢ 2 Tbsp. Coconut Flour
⬢ 2 Tbsp. granulated Swerve
⬢ 2 1/2 Tbsp. Refined Coconut Oil, melted
⬢ 1 Tbsp Creamy Almond Butter or Cashew Butter
⬢ 1/2 tsp. Pure Vanilla
⬢ large pinch Sea Salt
Berry "Cream Cheese" Filling Ingredients:
⬢ 8 ounces cashew cream cheese, softened
⬢ 3/4 cup blueberries, raspberries, or other low sugar berry of choice
⬢ 6 tablespoons salted butter or ghee, softened
⬢ 1/4 cup confectioners swerve
⬢ 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. In a food processor, process the pecans until they are crumbly. Do not over process. You do not want pecan butter!
2. Add the remaining crust ingredients and process until combined.
3. Spoon the mixture into 12 silicon muffin cups and press the crust evenly into the bottom.
4. Place in the freezer while you make the filling.
5. Meanwhile, place the berries in a blender and pulse until pureed.
6. In a large bowl, combine the berry puree, swerve, and vanilla and stir until mixed well.
7. Add the softened cashew cheese and butter to the berry puree. With a hand mixer, mix until smooth and no chunks of butter or cream cheese remain.
8. Remove the crusts from the freezer. Using a spoon, top each crust with a layer of berry "cream cheese" filling.
9. Optional, but pretty awesome- top each dessert with an edible flower (pansy's are great for this!)
10. Freeze the desserts until hard, approximately 2 hours.
Today's post is from garden coach, Sara, from Revival Garden Co.
Fast forward to today, my lettuce harvesting habits haven't changed much. However, I have developed a method to ensure we always have enough lettuce for our almost daily salads.
The process of planting and replanting certain crops in the garden is called succession planting. Succession planting will take your gardening productivity to the next level, and it's a lot more simple than you think! Gardeners and farmers usually succession plant the crops that have a short lifespan, making lettuce an excellent candidate!
In this method of succession planting, you will continuously work within three planting zones. I'll give you some ideas for how you can grow your lettuce using this method, but the sky's the limit here!
Here’s what succession planting would look like in your garden so that you can get an idea of what it’s all about:
A month later, sow your next patch of lettuce seeds and harvest leaves from your lettuce starts for your first home-grown salad.
A month after that, your first lettuce plants are probably getting a little bitter and old. Pull them out, replenish your soil if needed, and sow another round of seeds in the same spot where your lettuce plants used to be. By this time, your second patch of lettuce, where you started your first round of seeds should be ready to harvest!
Do you see where this is going?
If you follow the method, you will always have a patch of lettuce that you are harvesting from, one that is getting ready for harvest, and one that is seeded and germinating.
Succession planting in this way is how you ensure you always have lettuce in the garden and it is an essential step toward creating a garden that is not just a place of feast or famine, but a constant supply of beautiful food.
- 1 or 2 six-packs of lettuce transplants (optional), but this gets you started right away.
- A packet or two of lettuce seeds
- The growing space of your choice:
- A large pot - You can succession plant into one large pot by dividing it into thirds and following the method below. Try to choose a container that is at least 18" wide or long and 6" deep
- Three medium-sized pots - Choose three pretty pots, at least 6" deep, that you will plant into at separate times following the method below.
- Three square feet of growing space in your garden - The three square feet don't have to be right next to each other. You want to make sure you have the room for each succession planting when the time comes.
- Compost - You'll need some to mix with your garden soil or potting soil (if you are planting in pots) to add extra nutrients and water retention and some to lightly cover your seeds with
- Potting soil (if planting in pots)
- Slow-release fertilizer - a granular fertilizer that will slowly release nutrients into the soil for the lettuce roots to absorb
- Liquid Kelp fertilizer - for fertilizing throughout the growing season
Step 1: Prepare Your Soil
If you are planting into pots, fill them 2/3 full of potting soil and 1/3 with compost. Add your slow-release fertilizer as prescribed by the manufacturer. Mix well.
Step 2: Plant your transplants
Now you'll start your "first succession." Since these plants are usually 3-4 weeks old when you buy them, they are giving you a jump start toward an earlier first salad. Plant your “lettuce starts” 4 inches apart if you can.
- One big container - Choose 1/3 of your big container to plant your lettuce starts.
- Three Containers - Plant all of your “lettuce starts” in one of your three pots.
- In the garden - Choose 1 square foot and plant your “lettuce starts”.
- Make sure your soil surface is level by smoothing it with your hands.
- One big container - Choose the next 1/3 of your big container to start your seeds.
- Three Containers - Choose and prepare the second of your three pots
- In the garden - Choose the next square foot where you will start seeds.
- Open your seed packet and pour some seeds into your hand.
- Sprinkle the seeds onto the soil surface evenly. It doesn't need to be perfect! Your goal is to make sure you have enough seeds on the soil to create your next lettuce patch.
- Take a handful of compost and gently sprinkle the compost on top of the seeds. You do not need to cover the seeds with a thick layer of soil. Since they are so tiny, only a little sprinkle of compost or soil is necessary.
- Water the soil. Make sure your stream of water is not too strong to dislodge your seeds or bury them. I use a watering can with a rosette spout, so the water flows gently in a shower.
(usually 3-10 days depending on the temperature).
Once you see some green growth from your seedlings, you can ease up a little bit. In the heat of the summer, it's best to sow your seeds in the shade and water at least twice a day.
- One big container - Choose the last open 1/3 of your big container to start your seeds.
- Three Containers - Prepare the last of your three pots
- In the garden - Choose the next square foot where you will start seeds.
It lets you plant closer together and gives you multiple harvests from one patch of lettuce. The technique is easy! You can either cut or pull lettuce leaves from the outside of each plant. Be sure to leave at least four leaves on each plant. Or you can take some kitchen shears and cut the leaves about 1" above the soil level. In a few days, you will begin to see new growth coming from the center of each plant. Harvesting leaf-by-leaf takes more time but leaves the plants looking prettier. The shearing method is much faster but doesn't leave your plants looking very pretty. Either way works equally well. You will usually get 2-3 harvests from each planting before they start tasting too bitter. At that point, you should remove them (see Step 5).
It might seem a little complicated at first, but once you get the hang of the flow, succession planting is awesome! I have a recurring reminder on my phone that reminds me to start my next round of lettuce every month. It's a simple step that helps me remember those tiny chores in the garden that make a significant impact on my diet.
So, are you going to give this a try? I hope you do! Be sure to tag me @revivalgardenco on Instagram when you do so that I can cheer you on.
Sara Cory is a garden designer, garden coach, and founder of How Revival Garden Company. She is dedicated to helping new and established gardeners create edible and cut-flower gardens that are both beautiful and productive.
Today's post is from garden coach, Sara, from Revival Garden Co.
I can roast a huge plate of veggies and then use my homegrown herbs to change the flavor profile to be any number of ethnic cuisines. Plus, nothing feels quite so luxurious as walking out to your back door to snip sprigs of fresh herbs from your herb garden.
Tiana asked me to come here to teach you how to grow herbs that are typically more expensive and not as easy to store in the fridge for a week. I don't even want to think of how much cilantro and basil alone I have let wilt in my fridge before using it. I'm going to guess it's in the range of hundreds of dollars worth and drives my husband insane. Oops!
The very first one that came to mind is our beloved basil. Few things make me cringe more than having to go to the grocery store to buy 2 slightly wilted sprigs of basil packed in a tiny plastic container for $5! Don't even get me started about the packaging of some herbs, let alone the cost.
Once you how to grow basil and you experience just how easy and prolific is it, you will never want to spend money on that sad little container of basil leaves again.
Basil is a pretty simple plant to grow from seed once you have the technique down. The great thing about growing from seed is that you have so many more choices of varieties to grow than your local garden center will offer as transplants.
If this feels like a fun project you'd want to try, here's how you do it:
- Choose a container. I don't recommend that you start with your final big container. Instead, if you have some leftover 4" nursery pots, six-pack containers from purchasing other plants, or even some leftover yogurt containers you can start there. If you're using something without drainage holes, punch holes in the bottom with a nail or a drill to allow water to drain freely.
- Fill your container with good potting soil (I love Fox Farms potting soil products like Happy Frog or Ocean Forest). Make sure your soil is a little damp and not completely dry. If it is dry add some water and mix with your hands to make sure it absorbs the water. NOTE: Sometimes when potting soil contains peat moss and has been allowed to become completely dry, the peat moss will repel water and take a lot of effort to rehydrate.
- Pour a small number of seeds in your hand, note how TINY they are!
- Sprinkle a few seeds onto the soil surface.
- Press your fingers gently into the soil to allow the seeds to make good soil contact.
- Take a pinch or so of extra soil from the potting soil bag and LIGHTLY sprinkle the soil on top of your seeds. Basil seeds don't want to be covered by more than 1/4" of soil.
- Put your container in a leakproof tray like a Tupperware or baking dish. Fill the leakproof container about ½" with water. Let the basil seed container sit in the water for about 2 hours. This is a technique called bottom watering and it is BY FAR my favorite way to keep seeds and seedlings watered. This technique is especially helpful for plants with tiny seeds like basil when overhead watering can tend to dislodge the seeds and even bury them too deep to germinate. The damp soil will wick up the water to the surface of the pot.
- After two hours, make sure the soil surface looks visibly wet. If not, you can let the pot sit in the water a little bit longer until the soil surface has reached that wet look.
- Now find your brightest window sill. A window that is South facing will likely provide them with the best sun. If your windowsill gets hot, direct sun choose a different window where the little seeds won't be baked. For now, keep your basil container indoors since they need temperatures in the high 60's upper 70's to germinate. They like the warmth and the outdoors are going to be too cold right now to encourage them to germinate.
- Make a label out of a popsicle stick or a piece of masking tape that you can stick to the container. Write the variety name and the date you sowed the seeds on the label. Trust me, you won't remember these details in a few months!
- Place the container in a ziplock bag that you zip almost all the way closed. Leave about an inch open for some air to come through. Or you can lightly press saran wrap on top of the container. Because I start a lot of seeds, I use these seedling trays with clear plastic domes. The plastic covering serves the purpose of keeping the soil surface damp and the air around the seeds humid while you wait for the seeds to germinate.
- Place your plastic-wrapped container on the window sill and wait. This is the hardest part! Basil seeds typically take 5-10 days to germinate if the soil temperature is around 65 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once the seeds have germinated and you see little leaves poking from the surface, remove the plastic covering from the container. If you leave the plastic cover on your container on too long you can risk losing your baby seedlings to a disease called "damping off" which is a fungal disease that causes the seedling stalk to pinch and fall over.
- Plant your basil seedlings outside once they have 3-4 sets of true leaves, but make sure you only start introducing them to the outdoors when temperatures are above 50 degrees. Basil does not like to be cold!
Gardeners call the process of preparing baby seedlings for life outside, "hardening off". I have to admit that this is my least favorite job of starting seeds, but it pays off. When your seedlings live inside they are living a pampered life and will suffer and even die if they are exposed to strong sunlight and wind all of a sudden. So, take your baby seedlings outdoors in the late afternoon for a few days and let them experience the setting sun for a few hours, then bring them inside. After that, if the nighttime lows are above 50 you can leave them outside overnight.
Once they have spent the night outside, you can expose them to a few hours of morning sun before you place them in a shady spot for the heat of the day.
In about a week you'll have seedlings that are ready for full-time life outside.
CAUTION: I've done some serious damage to my seedlings when I've rushed this process, so be patient and take it slow while hardening off your plants.
What if growing seeds isn't for you or you want to plant basil plants now?
No problem! Most garden centers are selling basil transplants (aka basil seedlings) that are ready to be planted right into your garden or a container right now. While you won't have as many options as you do when you buy basil seed packets, you do get the instant gratification of getting a plant in the ground right away.
I'd suggest buying transplants and starting seeds at the same time! Then you can enjoy your basil plant while the seeds are germinating and growing up.
Soil: Basil likes moist, fertile soil.
- If you are planting in a container choose a good potting soil blend like Fox Farms Potting Soils.
- Fill the container to 2/3 full of the potting soil and 1/3 compost. Bagged compost is available at most garden centers. Adding compost to your container or garden soil will provide amazing nutrients, beneficial soil microbes, and extra water retention in the heat of summer.
- Add an organic slow-release fertilizer to the manufacturer's specification. I love Espoma's BioTone fertilizer or Down to Earth's BioLive fertilizer.
- If you are growing in a container, you will need to continually feed the potting soil with extra nutrients to keep the soil fertile and your plants actively growing. Once a week I fertilize my pots with a half-strength mixture of liquid kelp meal and fish emulsion.
Water: Basil is not drought tolerant.
- Make sure that you keep your soil evenly moist, but not sopping wet throughout the growing season to keep your plants happy.
Hardiness Zones: Basil is an annual, so it grows from late spring until it is killed by the first frost. For me this is October or November.
Days to Maturity: 68 Days (This means the number of days from when you seed your basil to when it is likely to begin flowering.)
HOW TO HARVEST
A happy basil plant can get BIG, sometimes up to 2' around. It's a sight to behold. You can begin some light-harvesting of your basil plants once they have become pretty established, around 8-12" tall.
Harvest your basil leaves early in the morning, if you can, when its cooler out. This will ensure you won't have wilted leaves.
If you start to see flower buds begin to form, you'll want to do a full harvest which means cutting the entire plant to 4-6" above the ground. This harsh cutting will encourage the plant to flush out a second growth of leaves.
If you don't know me, you must know that I have an undying passion for growing cut flowers and creating arrangements. I grow massive amounts of basil every year because I love to cook with it, but it is also an excellent foliage plant in a flower arrangement.
If you want to try using your basil for flower arrangements, you'll want to harvest when stems feel pretty firm or as soon as flower buds begin to form.
Like I said above, harvesting in the cool of the morning is best for basil, whether you want to eat it or arrange with it because the leaves are prone to wilting in the heat once cut. Take a vase full of cool water with you and place your stems directly into water to rest a few hours before arranging.
Basil has a pretty good vase life. You can count on stems lasting around 7-10 days. I've even had it last long enough to start growing roots, which you can put in a pot with soil and keep well watered to propagate another basil plant. Cool, huh?
If you choose to let your basil flower for arrangements or just as a flowering bush in the garden, just know that this may shorten it's life span a bit, but to me to worth it. Plus pollinators LOVE basil flowers.
Genovese: Probably the most well-known basil variety for cooking and making pesto. It has large luxurious leaves and an intense basil flavor.
Mrs. Burns Lemon: Newer to me, but I'm loving it so far. It has a clean, citrusy scent mixed with the hints of basil. I'm excited to make basil with this variety since I prefer a lemony pesto more than any other style. She's got bright green leaves and white flowers that are gorgeous in arrangements. An arrangement with Mrs. Burns Lemon fills that room with that aromatic lemony scent; a perfect Summer through Fall bouquet option.
Sweet Thai: If you love to cook Thai food, try this one! This plant is known for it's intensely spicy, anise/clove flavor that is a perfect complement to Thai and sweet dishes. Sweet Thai basil has medium green leaves and beautiful purple stems and blooms, making it a great edible landscape choice.
Dark Opal: A purple-leaved basil that looks almost black that has clove-like scented leaves. I love this one for iced teas, cocktail garnishes, and arrangements.
Well, have I convinced you to give growing basil a try?
Tell me how you like to use basil in your home?
Is there a certain variety that you are most excited to try?
Tiana's Favorite Basil Recipe
One of my favorite recipes comes from Beth Manos Brickey, FNTP of Tasty Yummies.
FIVE-MINUTE GREEN GODDESS DRESSING
-1 cup packed fresh basil
-1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
-1/4 cup organic olive oil
-1/4 cup water (or more as needed)
-3 tbsp avocado based mayonnaise
-1 large clove of garlic
-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-black pepper to taste
-1 jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, optional
1. Add all ingredients to a high speed blender or small food processor. Pulse a few times, then blend until well incorporated and super creamy. Add more water as needed to reach your desired consistency.
This can be served as a salad dressing, dip, sauce or spread! Get creative with it!
My husband and I currently live on 1/8th of an acre.
Our dogs basically own the backyard, and since they are young and full of insane amounts of energy, we have mostly left that space open for them to run around.
Right now, we have 1 peach tree, 2 concord grape vines and 1 rosemary bush that will never die. Outside of that, we purchase all of our other fruits and vegetables from local farmers. Fortunately for us, we are surrounded by farms, but this has also made me complacent in my efforts to grow some of my own food, which was fine until a few weeks ago when COVID hit.
Like so many others, I tried to limit my trips to my local co-op to 1x per week. Which has been fine since the majority of the vegetables I purchase from there last a really long time.
Since the co-op purchases the majority of their produce from local farms, the time from harvest to my kitchen is very short. This expands the lifespan of that vegetable (and the nutrient density of that vegetable!). So I quickly found that almost everything we eat regularly lasted an entire week.
Everything except lettuce.
And boy do we eat A LOT of lettuce. So much that I would swing by the co-op every other day for more!
But that all recently came to a halt. And it made me realize that this is the perfect time to start growing my own fresh lettuces!
What I have found is that many of us are feeling this same pull to self-sufficiency. So rather than keeping all of this amazing information to myself, I have asked my garden consultant friend, Sara, to come onto my blog and share some of her favorite tips for growing your own food from home.
She will focus on delicate foods that don’t last in the fridge for very long but that are also very easy to grow. We plan to talk about herbs, lettuce, and even edible flowers! At the end of each blog, I’ll share one of my favorite recipes or tips to help you take your food from the garden to your table.
Before Sara joins us, however, I wanted to share with you 3 reasons why, even after this pandemic is over, we should still prioritize getting our green finger polished!
- THE FOOD FROM YOUR BACKYARD IS MORE NUTRIENT DENSE
Did you know that approximately 20% of fresh vegetables in the US come from overseas? That “fresh” vegetable traveled thousands of miles likely for several days to get to you.
How fresh can that really be?
Every single day that a vegetable is away from its native plant and native soil, it is no longer being fed. Instead, it is using up store nutrients to keep itself alive.
That means less nutrients are available for you when you actually get around to eating it.
It is estimated that vegetables today have up to 40% less nutrients than their counterparts from just one century ago.
Beyond the distance traveled for these commercial grown fruits and vegetables, many of the commercial crops have been genetically modified and/or grown to prioritize yield instead of quality.
This means more fruit/vegetables are available from the same plant/soil, but that also means each fruit/vegetable has less nutrients available inside of it.
If reaching optimal health is a goal, we need to prioritize nutrient rich foods!
When you grow your own food, you make this possible by using soil rich in nutrients, natural fertilizers, and growing practices that don’t deplete your soil and plants.
Remember that spinach recall in 2019? I don’t know about you, but when I buy fresh produce, I fully believe I’m doing good things for my body.
I certainly don’t expect to get E. coli, salmonella, or listeria because I’m eating well!
And guess what? It is estimated that just 2% of the produce imported from overseas is inspected. 2%!!!
No wonder we have issues with recalls.
When you grow your own food, YOU control the environment. That means that you can use clean water and safe fertilizers to ensure your plants are getting all the nutrients they need without worrying about getting sick from them!
Depending on the food you love to eat, certain foods have been shown to be much cheaper to grow at home than to purchase.
- Bell Peppers
If you notice, these plants continue to provide harvest throughout the growing season which means they save you money in the end.
Single yield plants, such as radishes, carrots, garlic and onions, all yield one vegetable per seed, so you only get 1 harvest.
They can be fun to grow, and the taste can certainly go well beyond something you would get in the grocery store. Plus, don’t forget what I said in #1 and #2 above!
But if we’re talking strictly about money, they may cost you more to grow than to buy. So if saving money is a priority for you, look to get these single yield vegetables from a farmers market instead.
These are just 3 reasons to start gardening but there are so many. Including spending more time outdoors (hello, Vitamin D!) and stress relief (which we can ALL use more of these days!)
I am so excited to have Sara on the blog so I truly hope you come back to check out all of her tips so that you can continue to take the steps necessary to get closer to optimal health!
My hope is that you can be inspired by this stay-at-home order to grow and homemake more of your own food.
So, let me know what else you want to grow at home!
Let’s use this as an opportunity to be more self-sufficient AND create new habits that can support our health for years!
If you’ve never made a vision board, you should consider it!
There is an enormous amount of research that shows that the body will follow the mind. If you tell yourself that you are terrible at something, the likelihood of getting really good at that activity is much lower.
It’s the same with your eyes. If you constantly see negative statements or images (hello news!), your mind will perceive things in a much more negative way.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true. If you get into the habit of telling yourself that you are good at something, or surround yourself with positive images, you increase your likelihood of those positive things happening.
This is where the vision board can become very helpful.
There is no right or wrong way to create a vision board, but the idea behind them is to create a visual cue.. Something that you can see often that will spark motivation, inspiration, and positivity!
This can be something as simple as a bulletin board with images pinned to it that inspire you, or as complicated as a 3 dimensional object that you create using paper mache!
The main point is that your vision board is full of uplifting images and is placed in an area of your house or office that you see regularly (ideally, multiple times per day). When you get into the habit of looking at this vision on a regular basis, your mind will start to drive you in that direction.
Since I already wrote an entire blog post on vision boards before (which you can check out here if you’d like!), I’m not going into the ins and outs of vision board creation. Instead, I want to use the concept we used in the workshop to help you RIGHT NOW with finding more balance in your life. Because I think given our current circumstances, we can all use a little more of that, right?
When I lead clients through creating a vision, we use the concept of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is a visual representation of all areas of your life.
You then take a look at each slice, or area of life, and give them a score based on how satisfied you are currently with each one as well as where you’d like each one to be. This allows you to understand what areas of your life are in need of some attention and what the gaps are between where you are and where you want to be.
This exercise may seem silly but once you have a visual display of the current realities of your life, it’s like something clicks! And you are now better equipped to create a plan to achieve it!
The entire goal of this, and the vision board in general, is to create a life of balance. It’s very easy for many of us to become ultra focused on one area of our life while neglecting others, despite wanting those other areas to be fulfilled.
This type of behavior can lead to unhappiness and frustration, especially in times like these when certain parts of our lives have been changed (or taken away) against our desire.
For example, instead of getting mad that our gym is closed and we can’t take our favorite spin class right now, we can look at other areas of our Wheel of Life that could use a little more attention right now.
Eventually, the gym will reopen and you can recommit to your spin class. But for now, what other areas can you give some attention to that can help you achieve your overall vision and obtain more life balance? Because, the reality is, life will always throw us curve balls! It’s okay, and necessary, to pivot and adjust as necessary. THAT is what the Wheel of Life can help us do!
Personal Development- which includes things like your life's purpose, learning, spirituality, health and fitness. Have you ever wanted to learn a new language? Maybe now is the time!
Career- which includes areas like your business life, work environment and finances. Does your current career path provide fulfillment? Do you wake up and love to go to work? Does your career provide you with the financial freedom to live the life you want to live? If not, now is a great time to explore ways you can make some changes.
Relationships- which includes things like your marriage, love, friendship, family, and can also include spiritual relationships. These things take work! If you find that you are less satisfied than you would like to be with any of your relationships, how can you change that to make them more fulfilling?
Social Life- We are social creatures and we were made to interact with one another. So this area can include things like volunteering, community, environment, mentoring, having fun and possibly your hobbies if they involve a group.
The important thing when you sit down to create your own personal Wheel of Life is to create a wheel that includes categories that are most important to YOU. Be sure to include all aspects of your life, including your strengths and the areas that you already know could use a little focus.
As humans, we oftentimes tend to focus on our strengths, and neglect areas that we know we aren’t as great at. This can be fine with some things in life (aka- working with a team where all members are focused on their strengths but other team members are strong in areas we are not), but this can leave your basic human needs unbalanced.
For example, you may be a family woman/man! You prioritize the needs of your friends and family and make sure they are happy, healthy and thriving (all part of the relationships category). However, you will drop any plans you have for yourself to work out, or sit down to eat a nutritious meal, or take time to read or do your favorite craft (all part of the personal development category), all to make sure your families needs are being met first.
Creating your own personal Wheel of Life and honestly answering each category independent of the others can really help shine some light on imbalances in your life's basic human needs. Once you can visually see this, these areas can be brought into the conscious mind and a plan can be created on making some changes. Take the time to create 2-3 action items that you can do for each category to find better balance. If you are ready to take this to the next level, find images in magazines, online, or in catalogs that depict these action items and put them onto a vision board.
It is VERY COMMON to have certain areas of our life be more dominant at certain times, so don’t get discouraged if your Wheel of Life is not currently balanced. I personally had a major shift when the gyms closed and the shelter in place was put into effect. My primary focus on health and fitness shifted. This allowed me the opportunity to revisit my Wheel of Life and see what areas had been pushed to the background and spend a little more time on those. You can do the same thing!
The Wheel of Life can and should be revisited regularly. By doing so, you give yourself a chance to explore whether or not you are living in alignment with your values and beliefs. It also gives you the opportunity to be kind to yourself when different seasons of life cause you to shift focus unexpectedly!
So what are some areas of your life that could use a little TLC right now? Or, what areas of your life do you want to give more attention to that you have been neglecting?
If you don’t already have a Wheel of Life to work off of, you can download one HERE for free. Once you complete it, if you feel stuck with your action items on how to spend your time to be most effective in each area, reach out to me! Many times creative ideas can be developed in a short, free discovery call!
In mid November 2019, I was contacted by a fellow Nutritionist about a friend of his who was interested in running a 50 mile ultra run. His friend was a law enforcement officer who, up to that point, had been mostly focused on keeping fit by building strength in the gym. However, something inside of him had changed and he wanted a new challenge. For him, that was running. My colleague is an AMAZING gym owner and nutritionist who can help anyone get leaner and stronger, but ultra running wasn’t his specialty. So he reached out to me and got his client and I connected.
Ryan and I met for the first time on November 11, 2019 for a quick discovery call. I wanted to get to know him a little better and learn more about what his goals were. In our first call, I learned that Ryan is engaged to be married, has 4 kids at home ages 7-17 years old, and works 45 hours per week in law enforcement. I also learned that he has a military background, loves to push himself and has an honest fear of failure. He had already signed up for his first running challenge, the American River 50 mile Ultra Run in April 2020 and had a training plan he was excited to follow. However, he knew in order to finish his race feeling good, he needed some guidance with nutrition. After a short time learning more about Ryan and his goals, I knew working together could help get him the results he was looking for, so we lined up 3 months of coaching to lead him into his event.
On December 3rd, Ryan and I met for the first time face-to-face via Skype. This was a much longer consultation where Ryan got to tell me so much more about him and what he really wanted. His main goals were to lose 15 pounds of body fat and learn more about how to fuel his body to be able to perform at an optimal level. When I asked about his current diet: “I am keto, kind of” he said with a laugh. Typically, he skipped breakfast. For lunch, he ate meat. And for dinner he ate more meat. If he wanted a snack throughout the day, he ate...you guess it...meat (jerky). Sometimes he would eat a handful of almonds, some cheese or a Quest bar. He already had great habits established around drinking water, but also loved his coffee. Occasionally he would have some whisky, but it was rare and he typically avoided it during times of training.
To get started, we needed to know exactly where we were starting from, so I got a copy of his blood work, and we lined up an appointment at a local testing center and had Ryan complete a DEXA scan. From that scan, not only did we learn what his body fat % was, but also how much lean tissue he had, what his resting metabolic rate was, and that he has an incredibly fast metabolism! We used this data to help dial in a nutrition plan for him. The goal was to transition to clean keto for a few weeks that include many more vegetables. We used a keto mojo to test ketone levels to make sure we were hitting our targets.
Within 2 weeks, his usual afternoon dip in energy was gone and he was feeling less bloated. Between eating clean keto and his increased running volume, he was also losing weight...pretty quickly.
Within 1 month of starting our protocol, Ryan was feeling a little low in his runs and he had reached his goal weight, so we started doing some carb testing. The goal for this was to use a blood glucose meter to learn which carbs his body responded well to, and which ones didn’t work as well. We also added in carbs strategically around his longer training days on the weekends, and were well into testing different race foods he might be using on race day. Ryan is lucky because many foods he tested resulted in blood sugar levels that were in the normal range!
By February 15th, Ryan was curious about the changes he had made to his composition and went back for a comparison DEXA scan. He had lost 21 pounds and his body fat % had dropped from 22.76% to 16.58%. When I asked him how he felt about the results from his new DEXA scan, his exact words to me were “I feel great, so that’s all that matters.” Over the process of working together, Ryan worked really hard to tune into his body so he could learn more about what made him feel good, and what didn’t. This is so important for endurance athletes, especially ones who stay consistent with weight lifting in the gym, because the scale doesn’t always tell us the full picture! Plus, he’s going to be out there alone on race day and he needs to be able to listen to his body and respond to what it needs. The new habits he created were helping him do just that through all his training runs and in his day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, on March 12th, Ryan got the very unfortunate news that his race had been canceled due to COVID-19. Of course he was devastated, especially since most of the hard work had already been completed. But Ryan had become an ultra runner and his lifestyle was one of eating healthy and running. He was feeling better than he had in a really long time, so he certainly wasn’t going back now! Instead, he kept after his regular routine he had established. He ate clean. He completed his runs. And he focused on his recovery, even though there were no races on the calendar for 2020 anymore. Meanwhile, like so many other athletes, he waited for news about what to do next. Luckily, after a few weeks, the race directors of AR50 offered the athletes an alternative race. Instead of racing all together on the race route on 4/4, the athletes could set up their own 50 mile course, complete it in under 11 hours, and submit their times to the race directors for verification. Since AR50 is a qualifier for other 100 mile races, Ryan was already hoping to ‘punch his 50 miler ticket’ and be able to enter into Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Ultra Run in November 2020. This was great news for Ryan, because that meant, although VERY different, his race was still on!
He spent the next few weeks developing his own race route, asking friends and family to be his aid stations and support along the way, and finished up his training plan.
On the morning of April 4th, he set out for his race. The day was ‘hard and fun all at the same time’ Ryan said afterward. He definitely had his highs and lows on race day. There were times when his body hurt badly, but quitting never crossed his mind. He had practiced this day so many times in training that he knew finishing was the only outcome. Just like he had practiced on the weekends with long run after long run, he ate 300 calories per hour using Tailwind, Skratch chews and Spring gels. He took approximately 400mg of salt each hour and drank approximately 20 ounces of water per hour. All of this had been personalized, tried and tested for weeks leading into his event he knew this formula would work for him.
After the race was over, I got a message from Ryan’s fiance, ‘Thank you for all of the help. He didn’t $hit his pants, I’m very thankful for that.’ LOL! We laugh, but any endurance athlete knows how much of a reality this is when your nutrition isn’t completely dialed in.
Ryan is a shining example of how to set up your goals, trust the process, set up habits to make it happen, and enjoy the ride on race day. Thank you Ryan for letting me be a small part of the success you had at your first 50 mile Ultra Run. Here is to many many more (but next time with volunteer run aid stations, other runners, and an actual finish line).
For the last 12 years, I have been competing in the sport of triathlon and I LOVE it. I guess I always assumed that would be who I was...Tiana, the triathlete.
But when all the races were canceled or postponed, and all the pools were closed, something interesting happened...I didn’t really care to bike or run. I mean, sometimes I did. But more times I didn’t.
What I DID want to do was workout. Nearly every single day I was doing something, but generally speaking I desire to lift weights, practice gymnastic skills and trail run. It got me thinking about what really drives me to do triathlon and I realized a few things about myself:
- I am an athlete, not a triathlete. When push comes to shove, I’m quite happy to move my body in any way that feels good at that moment. It doesn’t have to be swimming, biking or running.
- I need to compete. THAT is what drives me to the sport of triathlon! The race. The other athletes. The challenge to train smart and lay down the best performance possible on race day. I wish I loved to compete against myself in training, but you know what, it’s just not the same as putting on a bib number and racing for me.
This realization got me thinking about my life as a triathlete and the habits I have had over the last 12 years to train for this sport. I guess I just assumed that after 12 years of swimming, biking and running that the habit of doing those things was solidified into my core.
But I just learned that it’s not. Interesting.
It also made me feel really bad for a week or two. Like an imposter. I mean, if you don’t love all aspects of a sport, should you really be dedicating so much of your life to it?
I’ve finally come around and realized ABSOLUTELY! Just because I may not do triathlon forever, doesn’t mean that there are not lifelong habits that I will take with me when I choose to do something different. They just may not be swimming, biking and running, and that is OK!
I also wonder how many other athletes are feeling terrible about themselves for not sticking to their training plan or having a deep rooted drive to continue training as they did before COVID-19?
I mean, if you do, fantastic!
That’s great that you can keep the same drive and intensity in your training. But for those of us that are driven by something different than the training itself, should we really feel bad that we don’t want to train the same way?!? HELL NO!
There is a big difference between a lifelong habit and a temporary habit.
Lifelong habits are habits we need to have in place for our entire lives to be healthy and happy.
For example: drinking enough clean water or moving our body regularly.
Temporary habits exist to help us reach a desired goal.
For example: finishing your first marathon or losing 20 pounds.
Running 6 days per week for 16 weeks into something like a marathon doesn’t make you a lifelong runner.
The running required to complete a marathon may be a temporary thing that helps you reach your goal. The race is the trigger you need to develop the temporary habit of running.
For me, I have set myself up with 12 years of races so I have never really had a period of time when I didn’t have something to train for. I mistook this for having created a lifelong habit of swimming, biking and running, but now that the races are off the calendar (for the time being), I realize the truth about my habits: I have created a lifelong habit around exercise, but not around triathlon.
IT’S OKAY TO SET NEW GOALS
So if you have lost your desire to keep training in the same ways you did before COVID, don’t feel bad about it.
Instead, I would highly recommend you take a deeper look into why you trained the way you did before COVID. Then, take those same desires (for me, it’s competition) and consider setting up a different goal.
Let’s call this a quarantine goal. Something you can work towards right now.
Because when this is all over, any habits you set up for yourself during quarantine will likely be lost (see last week’s post HERE on how change is a driver for new habits! Going into quarantine is one change, while coming out will be a whole new change!).
This is a temporary time and likely, the habits we create now will also be temporary.
Valuable! But temporary.
It’s not that you won’t take parts of these habits with you when your life returns to our new normal, but as we already know, every habit needs a trigger.
Your triggers that are in place now will likely not be the same when we get back to work, or are training into an event. So rather than stress about losing training, or eating less structured, or staying up later and sleeping in, how about we be kinder to ourselves and focus on small, consistent habits we can put in place for just this period of time that help us reach a quarantine goal.
When we get back to ‘normal’ life, we can reassess our lifelong habits at that time.
So what is your quarantine goal? I’d love to hear what you are working on during this temporary period of time. And, if you’ve thought ahead, what are you planning for once this quarantine is over?
She is an author and researcher who has written multiple books on habits, including The Four Tendencies and Better Than Before. Two other authors who have written books on the topic of habits that I have enjoyed include Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
Although all the authors speak about habits in a slightly different way, their messages are all the same. Our life is exactly what it is because of the habits we routinely follow every day.
As this is being written (April 2020, during the COVID pandemic), I think we can all agree that our version of “everyday” has changed drastically over the last few weeks. Many of us are facing a new reality and we don’t really know for how long this new reality is going to last. It’s no surprise our old ways and routines have been kicked to the curb! To top if off, the question many of us are asking ourself is ‘will things ever go back to the way they once were?’
I bring this up because I am seeing all sorts of memes like this one on social media…
So instead of just letting yourself go completely for 30+ days (which is a strategy you can use, but I don’t recommend), let’s look at how we can approach our new temporary situation, specifically around food, that can help us be better than before.
In Gretchen's work, she speaks of ideal times in life to make habit changes. Just take this quote from her book Better Than Before:
‘Any beginning presents an important opportunity for habit formation, because a beginning allows two powerful elements to combine: novelty and habit. The novelty of a new start wipes out our previous habits, and that absence allows new habits to crowd in.’
What she is telling us is that we are in an ideal time for habit changes now. A few weeks ago, many of us experienced a change in what was our normal day-to-day living. For some of us it felt like a complete transformation, and for others, a small inconvenience. If you felt that, you were presented with an opportunity to create new habits.
In a few weeks when life starts to return to ‘normal’ (whatever that will look like) we will have yet another opportunity to create new habits. Are you ready?
It’s moments like these that Gretchen calls the power of a ‘Clean Slate.’ If you have ever set a New Years resolution, then you have used the strategy of a ‘clean slate.’ If you have ever started a new job or moved into a new house, you have experienced a ‘clean slate.’ If you have ever ended or started a new relationship with someone important, you have experienced a ‘clean slate.’ These are opportunities for a fresh start. These opportunities for a clean slate can come as a surprise. But today, we can take advantage of the fact that we know that this COVID-19 situation is temporary and things will return to a new normal soon. So we have two chances to set ourselves up for success. Now, and again in a few weeks.
Let’s talk about how both can look from a nutrition perspective.
-Did you love your life? Are you excited to go back to it exactly as it was before?
-Were you happy with your routines around your diet? Did you prepare healthy meals at home? Did you eat because you were actually hungry, not because you were bored or sad? Was the majority of the food you put into your body nutrient dense whole food?
-Were you happy with your routines around your movement? Did you exercise enough each day, but not too much? Did you have a great routine around stretching and mobility? Did you have enough recovery time in your schedule?
The answers to these questions can help you decide how to tackle the “right now”, and what to do once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
For most people, my recommendation during the pandemic is to minimize damages. So many people have temporarily lost their gym, have had a minor or major change to their work environment, have been given extra responsibilities of things like homeschooling or caring for a loved one, and from a dietary perspective, are having a hard time eating the same way they did before. I’m not talking about from an emotional perspective, but from an actual physical perspective. If you are truly minimizing your time going into public, that means access to fresh fruits and vegetables will be limited, unless you are growing them yourself. That’s why I am recommending to my clients to let go of ideals and go with the flow! That doesn’t mean we can or should be eating whatever we want whenever we want it, but to be more relaxed on whatever diet you might have been following before all of this started. To help manage the current situation and set yourself up for a smooth re-entry post COVID, here are my tips:
That’s right, actually write out your menu for the week. I know you might be home and can make a last second call about what sounds good for lunch, but generally speaking, those last second choices aren’t always the best choices. My recommendation is to pick a day to plan (most of my clients find Sunday is a great day for this), and start off by eating a good balanced meal. With a full belly, sit down with your calendar and plan out your meals for the rest of the week. If you have a great recipe book, or some boards on Pinterest saved, reference those for inspiration. Keep in mind that fresh vegetables will be limited as the end of the week approaches. So plan for your fresh salads and vegetable dishes to be earlier in the week, and save the dishes that are made up of heartier vegetables for later in the week. If you have access to frozen vegetables, plan for these later in the week too!
I know you might be home, but cooking a meal for yourself 3x per day is exhausting and really time consuming! If you absolutely love to be in the kitchen, and you have a lot of time on your hands, this might be a viable option. But if not, I highly recommend you food prep 1-2 days per week so you have grab-and-go meals in the fridge. Reheating when it’s time is simple and fast. And decision making, gone! You made the choice on your food prep day, so save that brain space for something else today!
WHEN PLANNING AND SHOPPING FOR INGREDIENTS, LOOK FOR NUTRIENT DENSE INGREDIENTS THAT LAST A LONG TIME IN THE PANTRY AND FRIDGE
If you are like me, you prefer FRESH! I generally avoid canned fruits and vegetables, and even choose fresh over frozen most of the time. But we are in a unique time that calls for some flexibility! If you are following general recommendations to minimize public exposure, you are hopefully making 1 (or less) trips to the grocery store each week. That means you need to pick foods that are going to last! Look for recipes that include foods like:
-onions and garlic
-dried legumes (homemade hummus anyone?)
-frozen fruits and vegetables such as peas, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower (look for it riced!), organic corn and berries.
If you don’t know how to use any of these items, turn to the almighty Google! I typically use Pinterest and use the search terms “Paleo _______ recipe.” For example, if I want to use my acorn squash, I will search for “paleo acorn squash recipe.” In fact, I just did this search for you and found this caramelized onion, apple, and sausage stuffed acorn squash recipe...YES PLEASE! These search terms will eliminate most recipes with dairy and gluten (two foods my body doesn’t love) and has generally given me great results. If Pinterest isn’t your thing, you can use the same approach in a Google search!
Eventually, things will progress into our new normal. I doubt it will look exactly like our old normal before COVID-19, but no matter how it looks, we have this golden opportunity to establish NEW habits! Do you want to be someone who meditates daily? You can do that. Do you want to be someone who arrives at the gym 15 minutes early so you can do some extra mobility? That can be you! Do you want to be the person whose coworkers are jealous about their lunches? Go for it!
Here lies the problem. We humans are creatures of habit. If we are not ready, and have not made plans to create NEW habits, we will easily fall into old habits as soon as things go back to ‘normal.’ If you want that, great. If you reflect on your answers to the questions I asked earlier and you are excited to make some changes, then you must plan for them now. In Better Than Before, Gretchen encourages her readers to start how they want to continue. When your shelter in place is up and you can return back to your new normal, you have to be disciplined enough from the very start to act the way you want to act for the future. In other words, if you want to be the person who packs a lunch for work each day, you have to start planning to either make dinners large enough to have leftovers, or pack your lunch the night before. Don’t get caught up in the business of getting back to work and think you can start this a few weeks into your new routine. Your work is going to be as busy in 3 months as is it when you return. Start your new habit from the very beginning! This won’t be easy. You will have to be disciplined. But with some pre-planning, it’s completely possible.
There are so many possibilities to new habits you can create when the shelter in place is lifted. What are you most excited about?
If you want to get back on track with meal planning and food prep NOW, download this FREE meal planning guide. This guide will help you plan out an entire week's worth of meals, a shopping list by the different grocery departments, and even includes a list of foods that last for weeks in the fridge and pantry!
And stay tuned for more tips on creating healthy habits during and after COVID in the coming weeks!
Need a little help simplifying your menu and meal prep for the week?
Download this free guide which will give you 4 tips to simply meal planning, a list of nutritious foods that last 1+ week in the pantry and fridge, a weekly menu template AND organized grocery shopping list!
If you missed the announcement, I am in the middle of hosting a free 7 day challenge. This is something I put out into the Universe to help people refocus on the few things that are still within our control during COVID-19.
Every day for 7 days, we’re tracking:
- our water consumption to make sure we are hydrating properly
- our movement, with a goal of getting 30+ minutes each day
- our connection with our community, because each of us has people in our lives that have made our lives better and it’s time we made sure they knew how much we appreciate them
- our gratitude, because even in this crazy overwhelming time, there is still so much to be grateful for!
- AND...our meals. We are aiming to consume 2-3 real food meals each day that are made from single ingredient foods and avoiding snacking between meals.
If you missed signing up for this challenge, make sure you get onto my email list so you can be the first to know when I do another FREE challenge like this!
What makes this challenge special is that, for the first time, the only real restriction on what we should be eating and should be avoiding is only limited by what meals we can make from scratch.
If I want ice cream, I can eat it...but first I have to make it from non-processed foods.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that we should eat a bunch of homemade ice cream, homemade baked goods, and homemade sugary foods all week.
Those are allowed and can be enjoyed but the goal during this challenge is to prioritize home cooked meals built from nutrient dense foods!
With this in mind I am encouraging the challenge participants to release all the pressure and expectations they have around their diet and just get back to eating REAL FOODS, just like our great grandmothers ate.
We are currently in the middle of an unprecedented time.
The stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has created around the world is most certainly affecting our health.
It has been interesting for me to see how my nutrition clients are responding to this challenge. Some of them are attempting to use food as an antianxiety drug by eating all day, and some are forgetting to eat all together due to loss of structure in their daily routine.
Either way, goals are being sabotaged!
This breaks my heart because when this crisis is over, we could be ahead of where we were when this whole thing started, so long as we feel empowered to make a few good decisions that work to support our long term goals.
There was a study published in 2011 that followed 160 non-obese women. These women were asked to report their eating behaviors and emotional state every 2 hours for 10 days.
The researchers discovered a few things.
- Meals consumed at home were healthier than meals consumed away from home.
- The meals consumed at home were also followed by more intense positive emotions and less worry than meals consumed away from the home.
- The women who ate meals at home reported more intense pre meal positive emotions which cued healthier next-meal eating patterns. In other words, one healthy meal at home prompted the women to want to eat another healthy meal for the next meal.
This study is one of many that shows that what we eat can directly affect our mood.
And what I’ve noticed the past couple weeks is that some of us have become much less structured with our eating because we’re stressed out.
This is precisely the time when we should be supporting our body with everything it needs to create positive emotions and not eating foods that fuel more stress and negative emotions.
That is one of the main reasons I included ‘real food meals made with single ingredient items’ as one of the challenges for 7 days.
Not only are many of us in a shelter in place and shouldn’t be going out to coffee shops and restaurants for meals, but this is also a high stress time and most of us can use all the help we can get to minimize anxiety and promote positive emotions.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BEAT BOBBY FLAY
With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my favorite scratch cooked recipes today.
Some of these recipes are quite simple, and some are more complicated to prepare.
Even if you are not participating in the 7 Day Real Food Reset Challenge, now is a great time to embrace the spirit of your great grandmother and get back to home cooked meals!
If home cooking is new to you, be KIND to yourself!
This thing called cooking takes practice.
Someone who has never swam freestyle in their life doesn’t expect to jump in a pool and immediately have the techniques and skills to swim with Michale Phelps! And you shouldn’t expect to be Emeril Lagasse either.
So get in the kitchen with an open mind and explorative attitude and just try to have fun with it! You will fail a few recipes and that’s okay. Failure is how we learn.
Laugh about it.
Learn from it.
And get right back after it.
Who knows, you might find that cooking becomes a form of stress relief over time and who couldn’t use more stress relief right now?!?
So there you have it!
Ten of my favorite FROM SCRATCH recipes that are regulars in my house.
Do you have a traditional family favorite you want to share in the comments?
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!