Category Archives: Nutrition
Happy Fall, Y’All!
Wow. I blinked and somehow we made it to the first Workout Wednesday of fall. It’s nearly impossible to believe at this time last year, I was in the midst of peak week leading up to my first NPC competition. I still can’t believe how unbelievably different the world is this year.
While the mercury will register just shy of 80 degrees here in New York today, the past few days certainly felt like autumn and I found myself searching for heavier sweaters and socks to ward off some chilly air. Yet the bright sunshine and crisp air that greeted me on my morning runs also fueled me with new hope that better days are ahead for all of us as we start a brand new season.
I thought I’d kick things off season three of 2020 by reminding everyone of the few health perks found in a top fall favorite: pumpkins! While I recommend practicing moderation when it comes to enjoying pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie or pumpkin lattes, there are plenty of nutritional perks packed inside fall’s signature squash when enjoyed in its natural form:
- Post-Workout Power! Bananas seem to get all the credit as a top source of natural energy, but pumpkins actually provide more potassium. One cup of cooked pumpkin has 564 milligrams of potassium compared to a banana’s 422 milligrams. A little extra potassium helps restore the body’s balance of electrolytes after a workout and keeps those muscles firing.
- Good for Your Baby Blues…and Browns, Greens and Hazels, too!: One cup of mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. Also, pumpkin is chock full of carotenoids, a fancy name for the compounds that create its orange color. One of those compounds is beta carotene, which has been linked to eye protection.
- Keep Your Appetite in Check! Poor little pumpkin is often overlooked as a great source of fiber. A one-cup serving packs three grams or protein at only 49 calories. Countless studies show a fiber-rich diet can help you stay full longer so you eat more sensibly throughout the day.
If you have any recipes featuring the all-powerful pumpkin, please feel free to share! Also, don’t be shy about asking questions or offering ideas for mixing up your workout routine. Whatever is on your fall menu or exercise agenda, here’s to all of us embracing the season ahead filled with new chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! (Just stay safe out there!)
Ups, Downs and Everything In Between
Here we are on Earth Day 2020. While it’s obviously different from any other I can remember in my lifetime, it’s still a chance to be grateful for things like fresh air, the sea, the sand and beautiful flowers. This year, I’m especially thankful for access to the walking trails in Central Park which have served as both a physical “playground” and mental health escape route during these difficult days.
I realize it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve shared a post. To be completely honest, I just haven’t felt motivated to write. Actually, it’s more that I didn’t want to write about the dark moments or sleepless nights that crept up on me on more consecutive days than I expected. Thanks to an amazing support network of family and friends, those days and nights pass and I greet each morning with new hope it’ll be a better day than the one before.
The other thing that helps, as it always has, is getting some form of exercise on as many days as possible. In addition to my power walks and continued attempts to master the art of running, I also look to online workouts for inspiration to break a sweat. Since imitation is one of the highest forms of flattery, I wanted to share this heart-pumping 10-minute workout from the amazing, EJ, one of my amazing instructors at NY Best Kickboxing. (If you want to be super aggressive, repeat the series two or three times) Here it is:
:15 Bounce on the balls of your feet
:60 2 Lunges; 2 Squats
:30 Straight punches nonstop
:30 Hooks nonstop
:30 Uppercuts nonstop
:30 Mountain Climbers
:30 Forearm plank
30 Leg raisers
20 Toe Reaches
:30 Russian twist
:30 Knee tucks
:30 Mountain climbers
In addition to some daily exercise, here’s my short list of activities that help me find some inner peace:
- Chats with my parents
- Governor Cuomo’s daily press conference
- A hot shower
- Scheduling Zoom calls with friends
Finally, let me offer this candid piece of encouragement. Obviously, I’m a believer in the power of positivity. I’m also a proponent of daily exercise, good nutrition and a healthy sleep regimen. However, if you’ve had more than one bad day in these challenging times where too much TV and comfort food took the place of cardio and zzzzzz’s, don’t sweat it. You’re most definitely not alone. Allow yourself to experience your emotions and remember each day we’re lucky enough to open our sleepy eyes even in these uncertain times is a new chance to tackle our goals to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
To say we’ve arrived at a wacky Workout Wednesday is obviously an understatement. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and social media, we’re aware of each and every new COVID-19 case, death and local, national or international lock down as soon they pop up. It’s obviously good to stay informed, but never good to get to a point of paralyzing panic.
I’m not an expert on anything related to this virus, which is no doubt dangerous for the elderly or anyone with a less-than-optimal immune system. However, several people have asked me for my take on whether it’s “safe” to go to the gym right now. In my non-expert opinion, I offer the same top tips I’d offer during cold and flu season:
- If you feel sick, do everyone a favor and STAY HOME!
- Wipe down equipment with disinfecting wipes or spray before and after you use it. (Hopefully, your gym has plenty in stock. Kudos to the team at Cruch54th for doing such a stellar cleaning job!)
- If you must take a group fitness class, try and keep your distance from others in the class. (Attendance is already down at many group classes throughout Manhattan.)
- Be vigilant about washing your hands with soap and warm water when you arrive and before you leave the gym. You may not have time to shower after a workout, but there’s no excuse for not taking 20 seconds to wash your hands.
With more daylight to work with, you can always opt for a long walk or run in a park or other open space. Many body weight exercises and HIIT workouts can be done at home, including my all-time favorite Tabata workouts. For another option, click here to see my oldie-but-goodie park bench workout. (Just be sure to wash those hands ASAP when you’re done! Maybe even wear gloves while you are touching that bench, and throw them straight into the laundry when you get home.)
- Get healthy nutrition from fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get plenty of zzzzzs!
Am I concerned about the Coronavirus? Absolutely, but mainly for my parents and other elderly loved ones. So let’s be sure to take care of ourselves so we can be there for our family and friends if they need us. Wash those hands, stay informed and we’ll all get through this together. Let’s hope we can soon return to our regularly scheduled programming and all those plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Well, here we are just two days shy of the second month of 2020. How’s your January winding down as far as turning those healthy goals into a reality? If you’re still trying to find your groove, hang in there. Remember, it can take up to six whole weeks for habits to take root in our daily behavior. So, don’t give up now! This is a good time to take stock what’s working and what’s not. For example, if you’re more likely to workout in the morning rather than at night, stop stressing out when you don’t get to the gym after work. Instead, embrace that early-bird energy and keep setting your alarm appropriately to make time for that morning endorphin rush.
Well, here we are already eight days into 2020. I hope the start of this New Year has been good to you so far and this Workout Wednesday and all the days ahead are full of good health, happiness and adventure!
So how are those healthy resolutions going? If you’re struggling a bit, don’t sweat it! Even the biggest fitness fanatics feel your pain. Since my kickoff to 2020 took place in sunny St. Lucia, I’m still trying to get my daily calorie intake back under control and return to my physical therapy and cardio routine. (I do hope to get the all clear from my physical therapist on my arm issues by the end of this month.)
As we all work to find our footing on the road to healthy living in the New Year, I’ll share one “trick” that’s helped me since turning the big 4-0 nearly six years ago. I now focus on setting goals and deadlines for reaching those goals instead of “stressing” over how well I’m changing my overall behavior. Sometimes making the commitment to eat green vegetables with every single meal or workout six days a week can be daunting, and the temptation to throw in the towel can sneak in if you indulge in one “naughty” meal or skip one workout. Instead of stressing over daily slip-ups, ask yourself one question:
Is there something I want to accomplish this year that requires stepping up my physical activity and making healthier choices in my diet?
As I’m sure you recall, I went to the ultimate extreme in 2019 by competing in the NPC Brooklyn Grand Prix. This year, inspired by my husband, my cousin and several friends who have caught the running “bug” at various stages in their lives (thank you, James, Annie, Rita Joan, Jeannine and Pamela!), I hope to enter my first 5K by the end of the summer. So James, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about running, has started coaching me with a treadmill workout plan for the next couple of months. (Stay tuned on that front!)
How about you? Is there a fundraising walk surrounding a cause you’re passionate about that you’ve always wanted to join? Maybe this is the summer you play for a team of touch football at the annual family get-together instead of watching from the sidelines. Or maybe while on vacation, you take one or several long walks with your spouse or that friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Whatever it is, having a specific goal surrounding an event can keep you motivated since you know there’s a finish line to cross after all the hard work.
So if you’ve been doubting your ability to stick with your plans to make this your healthiest year yet, stop right now! Think about the positive steps you’ve taken so far and forget the slip-ups. Focus on today, one minute and one hour at a time. If you get to the gym today, kudos to you. If you don’t, pack the gym bag for tomorrow and try again. Remember, it’s the small steps that add up to big strides in our lifelong journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
It’s Gobble, Gobble Time!
It happened again. I blinked and here were are on the eve of my favorite American holiday! That means it’s time to serve up my annual recipe of survival tips for another calorie-filled Thanksgiving:
- Move it! Remember, even ten minutes of exercise today and tomorrow are better than none! The bonus is you’ll have the mental boost knowing you made an effort prior to the Turkey Day feast. Even if you’re hosting tomorrow’s holiday fun and can’t leave the house, you can pop in an exercise DVD or bang out a Tabata first thing in the morning. If the weather permits, maybe you can even sneak out for some fresh air and a brisk power walk or abbreviated run. Your gym is open? Great! Try a morning group exercise class or attack some cardio and core work. A few solid planks can make you feel strong before filling your belly with delicious eats.
- Eat breakfast! Be sure to eat something sensible on Thanksgiving morning to kick-start your metabolism. If you’re not feasting until late afternoon, make sure to follow breakfast with a small lunch or sensible snack so you don’t go overboard later. Two ideas: non-fat plain Greek yogurt with a serving of almonds mixed in or a piece of toasted Ezekiel bread topped with a sliced hard-boiled egg and salsa. These protein-rich snacks will keep you feeling full longer than those high in sugar.
- Portion Control: Use a salad or other small dish for your meal. Start with salad or veggies and then add the turkey. Use the remaining space for the potatoes, stuffing and other starches. There simply won’t be as much room left as you’d have on a regular dinner plate.
- Savor the flavor: Eat slowly! If you do clean your plate, wait 10 minutes before going back for round two. This will help you decide if you’re really hungry. If you aren’t, you’ll feel good knowing you had one helping – before moving on to dessert, of course!
- Keep Track of the Libations: This is the perfect day to follow the every-other-drink-is-alcohol plan. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer or cocktail then have a glass of still or sparking water before moving on to the next cocktail.
- Make Doggie Bags! Hosting the holiday feast? Don’t be shy about giving some of the uneaten turkey and trimmings to your guests.
There’s really only one thing left for me to write: I offer my heartfelt wishes for everyone to enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I can add being happily married to the list of things I’m thankful for, including my family, friends and the ongoing support I receive from my “fitfam,” which includes all my loyal readers. One final note: If you end up breaking the calorie bank this Thanksgiving, don’t sweat it. Remember, laughter, good food and even some good wine are all part of many holiday traditions and part of our ongoing journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
Seven Weeks To Go…
I hope you will forgive the mini-hiatus. Since I didn’t take my usual break over the summer so I could share my weekly adventures of bikini competition prep, I needed a brief reprieve from writing. On this Transformation Tuesday, I’m back just in time for what I consider the pre-holiday, holiday rush.
- Drink water: Hydration is crucial year round, regardless of the weather. Not only does water helps regulate our body temperature and distribute nutrients and oxygen to our cells and organs, drinking water can actually alleviate fluid retention and decrease appetite. I’ve been doing my best to keep up my competition prep habit of drinking at leas one gallon of water each day. To make it easier to track how much water you drink in a day, treat yourself to an early Christmas or Hanukkah present and get water bottle that measures for you.
- Make Necessary Adjustments to Your Workout Schedule: The end of Daylight Saving means darker days are here till the spring of 2020. For many people – including yours truly – fewer hours of sunlight can wreak havoc on motivation to workout at the end of the day. If that includes you, consider switching to a pre-work workout. With so many on-demand fitness programs, you can even roll out of bed and right onto a yoga mat in your own living room to break a morning sweat. You can also consider designating a workout buddy to help you stay accountable for getting exercise sometime during the day. Finally, this is also a chance to check your gym’s group fitness schedule for that class you were curious about but never got to while you were outside running or walking during the summer and early fall.
- Be Prepared: I’m doing my best to continue cooking chicken, turkey, brown rice and veggies in bulk so I have several go-to healthy meals available each day. Just like you may know what time you’re working out on any given day, it can help to also have a game plan for what your meals will look like. Make sure you have healthy snacks with you at work or in your purse or gym bag. Raw almonds and green apples travel well. If you have access to a fridge, hard boiled eggs; non-fat plain Greek yogurt and of course, full meals with a healthy balance of protein, carbs and veggies can always be close by.
The New Normal
Nineteen days have passed since I stepped off the stage and started showering off the spray tan, but I’m still dealing with the aftermath of the NPC Brooklyn Grand Prix. While my daily routine isn’t as physically taxing as it was in the days, weeks and months leading up to my first bikini competition, I’ve been struggling with some anxiety and stress as I now have no excuse not to focus on the “what’s next?” in my life. I think it’s easiest to break down the state of my psyche into three areas:
- My weight: Since holding water can change the numbers daily, I’ve gained between six to eight pounds since show day. I knew I could never maintain my stage weight. Aside from living on a low-calorie diet, by competition time you’re not just a little “hangry,” you’re dehydrated, too. A big part of peak week is cutting back on your water intake so you look as “cut” as possible on stage. While I realize my weight today is a healthier, more sustainable number (which still comes with its own demand for discipline), it’s amazing how your mind can get the best of you if you let it. I shared this in last week’s post, and it’s something I find myself repeating to myself almost daily again this week: we should never define ourselves by just a number. Instead, we should focus on how we feel and most importantly, if we have the energy to do the things we enjoy with the people who matter the most.
- My diet: Of course, there’s a very simple reason for the weight gain: I’ve been enjoying the things I denied myself during 15 weeks of contest prep! The day after the show, I savored every morsel of sunny-side up eggs, crispy bacon and buttered rye toast. For dinner, it was filet mignon tidbits on top of a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and two glasses of Prosecco. However, in between, I was back to a prep meal: four ounces of chicken, a half-cup of brown rice and a cup of spinach. Since then, I’ve been trying to strike a balance between eating those clean prep meals during the day and enjoying a non-restrictive, but healthy dinner. (Yes, wine is usually involved…and probably some version of dessert, too.) James and I have resumed going out to dinner or ordering in a few nights a week. Most nights, I’ll be “good,” nursing one libation to go along with a grilled chicken paillard covered with greens. Other nights, I’m not-so-good, enjoying two drinks along with yummy cheat foods including sliders; mac-and-cheese and chicken parmesan. Nothing is off limits anymore, but I’m still working on getting my groove back to the no guilt, everything-in-moderation lifestyle I followed in the 45 years leading up to the competition.
- My workouts: What’s been the best part of post-show life? A return to kickboxing! After months of work in the weight room, I was ecstatic to feel more power than ever before when I unleashed hell on the heavy bag despite not attending a class since May 20th. I’ve also kept up with my weight training, and plan to stick with it. While I’ve never been a fan of leg days, I’ll make sure to keep a couple of them in my weekly routine. However, instead of five sets of goblet squats, leg presses or deadlifts, I’ll probably do four. Making some gains in the off-season can only help me start another prep period even stronger than the first time around.
The hardest part of my post-show life is the daily struggle to not be so hard on myself. If I need to go to bed a little earlier or crave another carb-loaded meal, I need to “forgive” myself and let it go. Luckily my husband, parents and friends are helping make the adjustment from pre- to post-show life more bearable. I know I accomplished a lot in 15 weeks and put my body and mind through something unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Now it’s time to be thankful for what’s happened and plan for what’s next. It just goes to show striking a healthy balance for the body, mind and soul is an ongoing challenge in our never-ending journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous.
The Ultimate Post-Show High
I realize this is a completely out-of-the-ordinary day for me to share a post. Considering life has been pretty unusual during the past five moths, I figured I’d roll with it.
September 29th marked the beginning of life after the Brooklyn Grand Prix. I’m sure most people assumed I’d recover from the 15-week prep process by enjoying a little down time, taking a brief break from the weight room and re-introducing some libations and sweet treats into my life. However, as most of you probably know, I spent the seven days after the show gearing up for the true main event in my life – my wedding day! On October 5th, James and I surprised my parents – and the rest of our family and friends – with a beach-themed wedding on Long Island. The picture-perfect sunny day went off without a hitch and we started the next phase of our happily ever after. With the big day behind me, I’m now dealing with the ultimate physical and mental crash. After months of following a restrictive diet by the book; weight training six days a week; putting my social life on hold and planning a wedding day, my mind and body are basically screaming: “Okay, Laura, you pulled it off. Now it’s time to regroup a bit.”
Of course, I’m sure my fellow type-A personalities will agree sometimes taking your foot off the gas and regrouping can be the hardest part of reaching a long-awaited destination. As I mentioned many times throughout the process, I realized the contest prep lifestyle would never be sustainable if I wanted to get back to my normal social life. I’m totally fine with that. However, I’m now challenged by my mind making me second guess those second glasses of prosecco with dinner and the extra slice of leftover wedding cake. I even find myself worrying about adding too many “cheat meals” back into my daily life. That’s a pretty strange concept since before the contest-prep phase of my life, I always considered myself to follow a pretty healthy lifestyle. Now, having plain a nonfat Greek yogurt with some blueberries and almonds -none of which I ate during prep – is a “treat.” Also, I haven’t been on the scale and have no plans to hop on it anytime soon. Because my heart knows we should never be defined by just a number. Life is about finding our own balance to feel good, and doing our best to stay healthy. I just experienced the happiest day of my life, and I will do all I can to not sabotage that with feelings of guilt over celebratory meals with the people I love. Life’s too short for those kinds of regrets. I know I’d have bigger regrets if I started turning down social outings because I was worried about my diet.
This is also going to be a time of regrouping in my professional life. I truly don’t know what I want the next step to be, but I know I can’t stand still any longer. Maybe I’ll find a way to combine my love of health and well-being with my skill set as a journalist and producer. Maybe there’s an entirely different line of work out there just waiting for me to discover. Stay tuned.
Next week, I plan to share a bit more of my diet and fitness routine since the contest. I’d also love to know what lingering questions you readers may have about the whole process. Don’t be shy – ask away! As always, a huge part of keeping this blog going all these years is providing all kinds of information that’s helpful for everyone’s journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! I
The Main Event
Wowza. It’s been four days and I’m still at a loss for words that truly describe the experience. While I spent nearly 16 weeks preparing for my first bikini competition at the Brooklyn Grand Prix, the surprises I faced throughout the process and particularly on the big day made this journey all the more amazing.
I’ll start with show day. As you can imagine, I barely slept Friday night. Still, I was up and raring to go early Saturday morning equipped with my base coat of spray tan and a rolling suitcase filled with everything from a pillow and blanket to rice cakes and peanut butter. Arriving at the venue before 8 am, I met three women in the gymnasium that served as backstage. We were all first timers competing in the novice category, and three of us also signed up for the 40 and older masters’ division. As the day wore on, I didn’t look at these women as my competition. I got to know them as fellow warriors who shared the same ups, downs, cravings and jitters I experienced through the prep process. Thanks to the tanning and “glamming” process that takes place in an open space with very little privacy, Stacey, Kelley and Melissa saw more of me than some of the friends I’ve known since grammar school. By the time we lined up to take the stage for pre-judging nearly six hours after we arrived, we were practically holding each other up – both literally and figuratively.
Once on stage, I put on my biggest smile and truly had a blast. Nearly four months of posing practice came down to less than 20 seconds of doing my thing in front of the judges, which you can see in the video below. The extra boost was having my fiancé, James, in the audience along with my coach, Jen, and a whole row of friends whom I’ve known from various stages of my life. They cheered, they clapped and even held up signs. To my show squad: James, Jen, Elisa, Keith, Jeannine, Barry, Molly, Jim, Rita Joan, Adam, Sue and Andrew – a huge thank you. Your presence, along with all the texts, emails and messages I received that day and those leading up to it from family and friends near and far still overwhelm my heart. My eyes are actually tearing up thinking about it as I write this post. As I regain my composure, you can check out my stage swagger:
After pre-judging ended, there was nearly a three-hour break before finals. During that time, I happily enjoyed every morsel of my first hamburger in four months and some downtime with some of the squad. The day ended around 9:30pm, and when it was time to go home, I didn’t want treats. I simply wanted to take a long shower. Sweat mixed with two coats of spray tan, glaze and bikini “bite”(the glue they use to help your bikini stay in place) had my skin feeling like a potential biohazard. After the shower and one glass of bubbly – which went straight to my head – I slipped into a blissful sleep and woke up to the most amazing realization: I had nothing on my agenda for the first time in 16 weeks. The only thing I had to do was rest, enjoy a couple of cheat meals and get to Church.
During Mass, I had a major emotional moment as I acknowledged how blessed I was to make it through this journey. Back in May, I set my mind to attacking the prep process like the other projects and assignments I’d tackled as a journalist and producer and followed through on the directives to meet my deadline. I pushed on through the cravings for wine and chocolate; the pain of a few injuries and less-than-optimal workouts and more than a handful of days of potential mental sabotage when self-doubt threatened to get the best of me. The hardest part of it all was how I missed spending time with family and friends and skipping all the usual social outings that define my favorite season of the year. However, it was those same friends and family members who checked in on me – some every single day – to offer words of love and support.
So now for one final and heartfelt thank you. To my parents, family, friends, readers, followers and fellow “fitfam” members: while this journey was extremely personal, I couldn’t have made it without a strong community behind me. I know some of you never understood why I wanted to be in a bikini competition, but you respected my decision to turn a dream into reality.
I am beyond happy to have crossed this item off my bucket list. Will I be back on that stage again? Probably. I’ll share more about post-show life next week. For now, I leave you with the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience: if there’s a goal you’ve had on the back burner for too long, stop making excuses and take a first step toward making it happen. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, so go big today. Taking a chance can be a game changer in this ongoing journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!