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    From Runner to Tennis Player in 3 Weeks

    “What do you do for fun?”

    If you had asked me that question at any point during the past 10 years, I would have said running without giving it a second thought. Running is a convenient, healthy, goal-oriented activity. It’s also pretty popular these days. Like many of my Facebook friends, I enjoyed posting about my next race and took pride in tackling greater distances and finishing in faster times. My collection of race t-shirts was on pace to outgrow my closet.

    This spring, however, I started thinking that maybe I had been pounding the pavement for long enough. It’s not that I wanted to give up running completely. I just wondered what else might be out there for people like me – a fitness enthusiast looking for a new challenge.

    That’s when I decided to take “Tennis in No Time,” Midtown Athletic Club’s three-week beginner tennis program. All you have to do is show up, and your coach will give you a racquet and teach you to play tennis in six lessons. It turns out it really was that simple, but more importantly, it was a lot of fun.

    It didn’t take long to figure out that Tennis in No Time isn’t just a standard tennis class. With a small class size (just 5 players in my case), we each received a good amount of individual instruction from our coach, Jim, and we left each day feeling more confident in our skills and knowledge of the game.

    From grips, shots and footwork, to singles and doubles rules and scoring and strategy, we quickly learned what we needed to do to win points on the court.

    We used foam balls on a half court the first week, and eventually progressed to higher compression balls on a regulation-size court throughout the program.  This is another way Tennis in No Time (TNT) helped us build on-court skills because this innovative approach allowed us to slow down the game  without slowing the pace of the class. As someone looking for a new way to stay fit, I was psyched that standing around and waiting in line were not part of the lesson plan.

    Each class concluded with a wrap-up session in the Paddle Tennis Hut, where another coach would review the concepts we practiced that day. We also heard some great tips on how to practice. My favorite piece of advice came from coach Mike, who taught us how to use the ball machines in the club’s complimentary practice lanes. He reminded us to “always have an intention for your practice,” and to “always practice at your highest level of success,” which were principles that were applied consistently throughout the program.

    All that said, the real highlights of Tennis in No Time were the parties, where we were introduced to the social side of the sport. The first party was a Cardio Tennis theme, which included high-energy cardio & tennis drills accompanied by heart-pumping music from a DJ. With endorphins flying around the courts as fast as the tennis balls we were hitting, everyone was wearing a smile.

    The second party was a doubles mixer, featuring warm-up drills followed by fast-paced tennis with coach instruction (and raffle prizes!). Both parties concluded with food and drinks, and more time to hang out with our new tennis friends.

    So the question is, can a runner really become a tennis player in three weeks? In Tennis in No Time, the answer is yes, in less than three weeks. We were having fun playing tennis on the first day and every day throughout the program. And with the added benefit of tennis being a great workout (I’m even starting to develop my own set of “Michelle Obama arms”), the result is that I’m developing quite a crush on the sport…a crush that might just become a lifelong love affair.

    Want to know more about TNT? Head here for another Tennis in No Time testimonial.

    Ready to sign up? Click here for more information about TNT.

    Have you tried tennis? What do you like about it?

    From Runner to Tennis Player in Three Weeks

    “What do you do for fun?”

    If you had asked me that question at any point during the past 10 years, I would have said running without giving it a second thought. Running is a convenient, healthy, goal-oriented activity. It’s also pretty popular these days. Like many of my Facebook friends, I enjoyed posting about my next race and took pride in tackling greater distances and finishing in faster times. My collection of race t-shirts was on pace to outgrow my closet.

    This spring, however, I started thinking that maybe I had been pounding the pavement for long enough. It’s not that I wanted to give up running completely. I just wondered what else might be out there for people like me – a fitness enthusiast looking for a new challenge.

    That’s when I decided to take “Tennis in No Time,” Midtown Athletic Club’s three-week beginner tennis program. All you have to do is show up, and your coach will give you a racquet and teach you to play tennis in six lessons. It turns out it really was that simple, but more importantly, it was a lot of fun.

    It didn’t take long to figure out that Tennis in No Time isn’t just a standard tennis class. With a small class size (just 5 players in my case), we each received a good amount of individual instruction from our coach, Jim, and we left each day feeling more confident in our skills and knowledge of the game.

    From grips, shots and footwork, to singles and doubles rules and scoring and strategy, we quickly learned what we needed to do to win points on the court.

    We used foam balls on a half court the first week, and eventually progressed to higher compression balls on a regulation-size court throughout the program.  This is another way Tennis in No Time (TNT) helped us build on-court skills because this innovative approach allowed us to slow down the game  without slowing the pace of the class. As someone looking for a new way to stay fit, I was psyched that standing around and waiting in line were not part of the lesson plan.

    Each class concluded with a wrap-up session in the Paddle Tennis Hut, where another coach would review the concepts we practiced that day. We also heard some great tips on how to practice. My favorite piece of advice came from coach Mike, who taught us how to use the ball machines in the club’s complimentary practice lanes. He reminded us to “always have an intention for your practice,” and to “always practice at your highest level of success,” which were principles that were applied consistently throughout the program.

    All that said, the real highlights of Tennis in No Time were the parties, where we were introduced to the social side of the sport. The first party was a Cardio Tennis theme, which included high-energy cardio & tennis drills accompanied by heart-pumping music from a DJ. With endorphins flying around the courts as fast as the tennis balls we were hitting, everyone was wearing a smile.

    The second party was a doubles mixer, featuring warm-up drills followed by fast-paced tennis with coach instruction (and raffle prizes!). Both parties concluded with food and drinks, and more time to hang out with our new tennis friends.

    So the question is, can a runner really become a tennis player in three weeks? In Tennis in No Time, the answer is yes, in less than three weeks. We were having fun playing tennis on the first day and every day throughout the program. And with the added benefit of tennis being a great workout (I’m even starting to develop my own set of “Michelle Obama arms”), the result is that I’m developing quite a crush on the sport…a crush that might just become a lifelong love affair.

    Want to know more about TNT? Head here for another Tennis in No Time testimonial.

    Ready to sign up? Click here for more information about TNT.

    Have you tried tennis? What do you like about it?

    Eat For Your Heart

    Nutritionist Sarah Guilbert takes over the blog to talk about dietary changes you can make right now to improve not only your heart health, but also your overall quality of life as well.

    Today is Go Red for Women day to promote women’s heart health. I have the pleasure of working in the Cardiac Care Unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where I speak with patients about heart-healthy diet strategies after they have had a heart attack or other cardiac event.

    Here are the dietary strategies I share with them. Please use them to make healthy food choices to protect your heart on Go Red for Women Day and every day.

    Foods That Promote Heart Health

    Fruits and Vegetables: Produce has dietary fiber, which is important for lowering cholesterol levels. Those whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables often have lower blood pressure. Try adding a cup of berries to your regular breakfast, or enjoy some raw veggies with hummus as a mid-afternoon snack.

    Nuts: Studies have shown that nut consumption correlates with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Eat walnuts, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids (more on these next), pistachios, or almonds to keep your heart strong and healthy.

    Salmon and Tuna: These two fish have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a type of essential fatty acid that have a number of health benefits, including reducing your risk of death from coronary artery disease, reducing inflammation, and potentially lowering your risk for chronic disease. Fish intake also correlates with lower risk for cardiovascular disease in general.

    Diet Components to Limit for Heart Health

    Total Fat: Keep your daily total fat intake within a moderate range, or within 25-35% of your daily calories.  For a 1,500- calorie diet, this is approximately 40-to-60 grams of fat per day. For a 2,000-calorie diet, this is approximately 55-to-75 grams of fat per day.

    Bad Fats: Keep saturated fat to <7% of your daily calories. Limiting fried foods, fatty cuts of meat, and added butter will help you reach this goal. Trans fats, also called partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, should be limited to <1% of your calories, and ideally, you should consume foods with trans fats at all. Try to avoid margarine, commercial baked goods (like pies and cakes), and fried foods in order to limit your trans fats consumption.

    Dietary Cholesterol: Limit the amount of cholesterol you eat because high levels of cholesterol consumption correlates with higher levels of LDL cholesterol in plasma. Stick to less than 200-to-300 milligrams per day. Limit consumption of egg yolks to four per week, avoid fatty meat products, and limit shellfish consumption to better manage your cholesterol intake.

    Sodium: Too much dietary sodium can raise blood pressure and cause the heart to work harder. Limit your intake to <2,000 milligrams per day. 1,500 milligrams per day or less is ideal.  Also, avoid these high sodium foods: canned items (especially soups and sauces), prepared foods/restaurant food, frozen dinners, snack items (chips, crackers, popcorn), condiments and sauces, deli meat (especially ham), and cheese.

    Heart disease takes the lives of 1 in 3 women each year. According to the American Heart Association, studies show that healthy choices have resulted in 330 fewer women dying from heart disease per day. Make these changes to your diet, exercise regularly, and you’ll place yourself on the right track to a long and healthy life.

    For even more ways you can protect your heart, check out these tips.

    References
    Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  Nutrition therapy to reduce sodium and cholesterol (n.d.).  Retrieved January 25, 2013, from http://nutritioncaremanual.org/vault/editor/Docs/NutritionTherapytoReduceCholesterolSodium2.pdf
    Elrich, S. University of Maryland Medical Center.  Omega 3 fatty acids.  (2011, May 10).  Retrieved January 27, 2013,  from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm
    Lichtenstein A, Appel L, Brands, M, Carnethon M, Daniels S, Franch HA, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation.  (2006, June).  Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/114/1/82.full.pdf.

    What do you do to keep your heart healthy and strong?

    5 Workout Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Resolution

    One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions is to improve health.

    Unfortunately, most New Year’s Resolutions are also doomed to fail.

    In the interest of saving you time in route to your destination (the body of your dreams, we hope!), let’s examine some of the most common exercise mistakes to determine whether you have what it takes to succeed.

    Mistake #1: Doing Too Much, Too Soon

    If it has been a while since you’ve exercised, or you have been exercising inconsistently, your body isn’t going to respond well to a strenuous program right off the bat. Choose a schedule that you can stick to (e.g. one hour per day, three times per week), and begin at an intensity level that feels challenging, but not debilitating.  Make sure to incorporate adequate time for a warm-up and cool-down.

    Mistake #2: Forgetting Proper Technique

    When it comes to resistance training, technique is the difference between getting results and getting injured, or not seeing any improvement at all.  It starts with proper posture, which means keeping the core engaged (imagine how you would brace yourself if someone was about to punch you in the stomach), and standing tall with a neutral spine, shoulder blades pulled back, and head lifted.

    Also, make sure you know the purpose of the exercise you are about to perform.  What muscles are working?  What is the proper range of motion for the exercise?  Is this the most effective way to target the muscles I want to work?

    If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s time to talk to a trainer or instructor, or do some research on your own.  Time spent now on learning how to do the exercise correctly means less time to your goal.

    Mistake #3: Choosing Quantity Over Quality

    If doing an hour of cardio means walking on a treadmill while you catch up on the latest episode of Downton Abbey and you barely break a sweat, then that hour didn’t do a whole lot to help you improve your fitness (the same concept applies to doing a lot of repetitions with almost negligible weight). Working out should feel challenging, and the good news is, challenging yourself appropriately will lead you to the results you want in less time.

    Mistake #4: Always Doing the Same Thing

    Don’t worry; you don’t have to give up cycling if that is your favorite workout. Just make sure that you are changing your exercise intensity from time to time (alternating hard days and easy days, or increasing resistance over time), and maintaining a balanced program.  That means incorporating cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training.

    Now for the Number One resolution-killer

    Mistake #5: Ignoring the Truth

    Make sure you are answering the following questions honestly:

    • Do I have the time and motivation to reach the goal I have set for myself?
    • Am I choosing the right exercises for my current fitness level that will help me get where I want to go?
    • If your goal is weight loss – am I overestimating calories out and underestimating calories in? (For assistance, check out our post on Heart Rate Monitors.)
    • Do I have a method of measuring my progress that isn’t just stepping on a scale (e.g. monitoring heart rate at a given pace, distance covered per unit time, reps completed before reaching fatigue, documenting how you feel)?

    If the answer to these questions is “No,” or “I’m not sure,” you may be setting yourself up for failure. Give yourself your best chance at fitness this year – avoid these detrimental mistakes, create and stick to a plan, and go for it!

    What are your fitness goals this year?  What steps are you taking to achieve them?

    Create Healthy Holiday Traditions

    Kathleen Hermann talks about ways for families to engage in fun fitness activities during the holiday season.

    We all have holiday traditions, from Aunt Linda’s green bean casserole to fireside carols to the annual donning of the matching sweaters.

    However, a lot of our traditions around the holidays focus on heavy, fat-laden foods. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Traditions are important, and the holidays are a good time to indulge as long as we do not indulge to excess.

    Still, it is a good time to assess whether your family has any healthy holiday traditions, namely involving physical activity. If not, then why not consider starting one?

    Growing up, we watched my father every Thanksgiving morning amble through a Turkey Trot 5k. A former college basketball star measuring 6’8″ in height, he was by no means a runner and it was often humorous to watch him lurching down the final stretch. Nevertheless, he loved how running that race (which was, in fact, the only race he ever ran each year) made him feel on Thanksgiving Day.

    As soon as we were old enough, us kids joined him, engaging in a friendly competiton with eachother for place and time. There was something special about knowing no matter the weather — and we had our share of unseasonably warm days as well as days with a foot of snow — we knew where we would be Thanksgiving morning. After an endorphin high of running a race like a Turkey Trot in a huge crowd of like-minded runners, the rest of the day was gravy (pun intended).

    There are, in fact, many different ideas for holiday traditions involving fitness, with  new opportunities forming each year. It’s not important what you do as long as you do your best to mix the holiday, family and friends (or even pets) with fitness. Here are some ideas for healthy traditions you may not yet have tried:

    1. Run a Holiday Race

    Did you know that the first “Turkey Trot” was started in Buffalo during Thanksgiving of 1896? Back then it had only six runners, but today that same Buffalo race regularly has over 10,000 participants. Now there are Turkey Trots and Jingle Runs all over the country, of differing lengths and terrains. The feeling of having accomplished something will make the food taste that much better.

    2. Backyard Touch Football
    This is a fun, special tradition that many families have already incorporated into their holidays for generations. Instead of sitting on the couch in a food-induced coma, head out for your own friendly-family or neighborhood competition. Children especially will cherish watching adults take part in a fun family game with them.

    3. Take a Holiday Walk
    There’s no sweeter image to me on holidays than when I see entire generations of a family out walking down the road in a big pack. The sight of an elderly grandmother pushing a stroller, uncles and aunts engaging in jesting banter, and mixed-age children running ahead just seems to be one of the best ways to unite as a family. Even if it is only you and your dog celebrating this year, take a special walk -perhaps on a nature trail- and enjoy the time to reflect on the holiday and giving thanks.

    4. Engage in a Seasonal Activity
    The holidays are a great time to let your inner child run free. Whether there are young ones with you or not, there’s no reason you can’t go tobogganing, ice skating, or build a large snowman. If you live in a warmer climate, look for indoor ice rinks that offer open skating for the public. All of these activities will  have you sweating off enough calories for that pumpkin pie you ate.

    Holiday traditions don’t have to be focused only on sugar cookies and stuffing. Embrace a tradition involving physical activity and your holiday will combat stress, lift your mood, and make the time richer and brighter. More importantly, you may not end the holiday season five pounds heavier and feeling like a sloth. It is never too late to start a new tradition!

    Does your family have a healthy holiday tradition or story?

    SuperFoods: They’re Here to Save the Day

    Midtown Athletic Club in Willowbrook, IL Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer, and Certified Personal Coach Nicole Polus takes over the blog today to discuss how to incorporate superfoods into your active lifestyle, so you can maintain a healthy weight during the calorie-laden holiday season of eating.

    You’ve heard the phrase “superfood” in health and fitness magazines, on afternoon talk shows, and all over the Internet , but what truly makes a food “super”?  Superfoods contain powerful amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help people fight disease and live healthier lives.

    There are many foods that can positively impact overall health and wellness, so I recommend that you eat a variety of healthy foods every day to get the best nutrition for your body. But adding in one (or more) of these superfoods each day can deliver the boost you need to stay healthy during the cold winter months.

    Sweet Potato

    Everyone’s favorite tuber around the holiday season is jam-packed with fiber, helping you maintain good cholesterol while keeping you fuller longer, which is beneficial for weight loss or maintenance. Sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of potassium and vitamins A, B6, and C. Studies have shown that incorporating sweet potato into the diet is not only good for heart health, but also helps with glucose control and insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.

    For Thanksgiving this year, add to your plate an extra serving of sweet potato casserole (as long as it isn’t loaded with butter, marshmallows, and brown sugar, of course). Looking to bring your own healthier version of sweet potato deliciousness to the Turkey Day feast? Try this recipe or you could always think outside the box and try a new recipe like this sweet potato hash.

    Chia Seeds

    You used to watch these seeds grow out of of a pottery planter in the shape of your favorite animal. Now, try eating them instead! Like other noteworthy seeds and nuts, chia seeds are high in fiber (about 10 grams per 1 ounce serving) and also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help improve heart health (about 5 grams per 1 ounce serving, which is double the amount found in the same serving of walnuts). Additionally, these seeds are good sources of copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.

    Chia seeds are flavorless, so you can add them to any snack or meal.  Sprinkle some into your morning oatmeal, swirl some into your afternoon yogurt snack or homemade smoothie, or sprinkle them on top of your dinner salad. If you enjoy baking, you can incorporate these seeds into most breads, muffins, and even cookies, so start experimenting. You can find chia seeds in most grocery stores.

    Kale

    This dark green, bitter-tasting vegetable is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, especially when cooked. It is also a good source of calcium, fiber, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and iron. It’s a true superfood. Studies show the many health benefits, which include raising HDL (good) cholesterol, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, and decreasing the risk of both breast and prostate cancer.

    Try this delicious Barley Kale Salad, which is one of my favorites. I have brought this dish to two family parties, and have come home with an empty bowl both times. Tip: do not add too much of the vinegar dressing all at once to prevent over-dressing the dish. If you prefer your kale cooked, try this easy side dish recipe made with simple ingredients found in the pantry and fridge.

    Eggplant and Kale Sauté

    Ingredients:

    1 medium eggplant, chopped into cubes

    3 cups of kale, rinsed, chopped, and stems trimmed off

    1 cup of fresh mushrooms (or 8-ounce can)

    8 ounce can of no-salt-added tomato sauce

    Spices for extra flavor (I used a little garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, a sprinkle of oregano, and some sesame seeds, but use what you like.)

    Spray a medium to large sauté pan or skillet with cooking spray.  In the pan, cook the cubed eggplant, covered on medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Next, add the chopped kale and mushrooms into the pan. Cover and cook the vegetables about 5 minutes more or until the kale begins to wilt and the eggplant begins to brown. Lastly, slowly add the can of tomato sauce and stir to coat all the vegetables. Cover and cook on low for a few more minutes. Season with spices for extra flavoring.

    Quinoa

    This mighty whole grain, known for its protein-packed body (6 grams per 1/3 cup serving), is an excellent source of folic acid, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. Compared to wheat, barley, or corn, it is higher in calcium, copper, zinc, potassium, and iron. Quinoa is also a great source of dietary fiber, which promotes satiety or fullness.

    Technically, quinoa is actually a seed, but it is usually considered a whole grain because it is prepared like other whole grains, including rice and barley. Nutritionally, it is also a complete protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids), which is very rare for plant-based foods. Research has shown that eating this grain decreases the risk for gum disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and inflammation.

    When cooked alone, quinoa has great flavor. It takes about 15 minutes on the stovetop, and each individual grain should turn clear with a ring around it when finished. After cooking, you can season it with spices, olive oil, or a splash of lime juice. It is also great served alongside vegetables, as shown during of my latest dinners, which was delicious.

    If you want to experiment with a quinoa recipe, try this recipe, which is a quinoa spin on mac-n’-cheese. Tip: It is best to buy pre-rinsed/pre-washed quinoa, which is sold in most grocery stores. That way you can use the quinoa straight from the box or tub when cooking with it. Got a sweet tooth? Try this recipe for sweet potato quinoa, which combines two of our superfoods.

    So, if you have wanted to pump up the nutrition in your cooking, or simple add some healthful recipes to your usual holiday meal plan, now is the time. Head to your favorite grocery store and add these superfoods to your cart.

    Happy eating.

    References:

    Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from www.eatright.org.

    Grotto, David, RD, LDN.  The Best Things You Can Eat. Boston: First Da Capo Press, 2013

    6 Ways to Stay Holiday Healthy

    Midtown Athletic Club in Willowbrook, IL Personal Trainer Nicole Duval takes over the blog today to discuss how to navigate the muddy (and calorie-laden) waters of the holiday season and still maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.

    Ahh, the holidays. Such a joyous time: themed parties, family get-togethers, surprise presents.

    But all of these “fun” times can wreck havoc on waistlines. So how do you stay within your happy weight range and still have fun through the new year?  Here are a few tips to help you stay an active and smart party-goer!

    Purchase Halloween Candy on October 30th

    This holiday is fast approaching and the biggest temptation is not the candy your kids get when they trick-or-treat, but the candy you buy to give out!

    The stores advertise their HUGE sales weeks in advance, so not only are you tempted to buy candy at these stores, but you’ll buy it, eat it all, and have to buy more. So wait until the last minute and it won’t be sitting in your cupboard calling your name when you sit down to watch that DVR’d episode of Parenthood.  I promise, it will still be on sale.

    If you must have a few pieces, steal them from your kid’s loot.  Just don’t tell them I told you to do that.

    Buy Opposite Your Taste Buds

    Another idea is to buy candy you don’t really enjoy. Nerds and Smarties just don’t do it for me so I’m not going to eat half a bag before the doorbell starts ringing. If you buy candy you’re not crazy about, you’re less likely to pig out when you’re giving the candy away.

    Use this tip throughout the season. If you stock-up on hostess gifts such as boxes of candy or tins full of nuts just in case you have a last-minute event to attend, buy treats that you won’t eat by the handful. If you’re not a popcorn person, buy three-flavor tins of popcorn for hosts, or if you prefer red wine, buy a few whites to have in your stockpile. You’ll be less likely to open one of these “gifts” if you don’t like them.

    Plan Your “Cheat” Meals

    So now Thanksgiving is drawing near followed by Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s. Your calendar is filling up with parties to attend and you can already feel your pants getting tighter.

    How do you enjoy your friends and family without having to buy new clothes next year?  Your first step is to check your calendar every Sunday for the upcoming week and see what function(s) you’re attending.  Plan your “cheat” meal to be that event. That way you’ll have something to look forward to when you’re eating ”good and clean” all week.

    Scan and Plan

    When you arrive at the event, scan the party for the entire spread before you start noshing.  Pick one or two treats that you’ll indulge in (such as mini beef wellingtons or chocolate chip cheesecake) and fill the rest of your plate with vegetable-based appetizers, shrimp cocktail, and anything without puff pastry.

    Drink Smartly

    Pick a lower-calorie beverage such as wine (100 calories per 4 oz. serving), or a light beer; preferably one that has the amount of calories in the name, such as Budweiser Select 55 or MGD 64, so you can easily track your alcohol calories.

    It’s also best to stop after one alcoholic beverage, not only for the calorie count or to be a safe driver, but because the more tipsy you get, the more your inhibitions go down and the more mindlessly you’ll end up eating. You don’t want to ruin your entire week’s worth of workouts on a whole bottle of wine and in turn eat the entire bowl of chips!

    Get Grooving

    Lastly, if there is dancing at any of these events, then bust a move!  Getting some cardio in will help you burn off your extra treat pounds so when 2014 comes, you can slip back into your skinny jeans just like it’s 2013.  Or maybe 2001 if you REALLY break it down!

    So what are your holiday healthy tips?  Do share!

    Healthy Lunches and Snacks for Active Kids

    Struggling for ideas on what to pack in your kids’ school lunches that will give them the energy and brain power to last through a full day of classes and after-school sports? Sarah Guilbert, the Nutritionist from Midtown Athletic Club in Rochester, is back to demystify the healthy lunch packing process with some great recipes to help your children have a productive year in school.

    You’re not alone if you’re having trouble coming up with creative, healthy ideas for your kids’ packed lunches and snacks. There are many misleading kid-friendly “health-food” products on the market that are actually anything but, and wading through the front-of-the-package marketing claims is sometimes difficult.

    By ditching the processed, prepared foods and making lunches and snacks yourself you can ensure that your child is eating healthfully. It is also a fun way to give your kids a little food education, as you teach them the preparation skills necessary to one day take over the job for you.

    The following recipes will help students power through the school day with enough energy to perform well academically as well as on the sports field, track, or swimming pool.

    For the Lunch Box

    Whole Grain Pita Pockets with Harvest Chicken Salad

    This recipe shows the versatality of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt.  Tip: substitute regular walnuts for the candied walnuts in this recipe to lower the amount of added sugar.

    Whole Wheat Bread, Natural Peanut Butter, and Banana Slices. Pack Milk in a Thermos.

    This is a potassium-rich variant on traditional peanut butter and jelly.

    Spaghetti Squash with Grilled Chicken and Low-Sodium Marinara Sauce

    Spaghetti squash is a healthy and fun substitute for refined pasta. You can easily pack this dish in a thermos or a container like this. Have your kids help prepare the squash so they can see the fascinating inside of this vegetable.

    Greek Yogurt, Banana, and Low-Fat Granola Parfait.

    Add your child’s favorite side dish to round it out. This meal is packed with potassium and protein.

    Healthy Grilled Cheese Paired with a Side Salad in an Edible Bowl

    Make a grilled cheese sandwich using whole grain bread with reduced fat cheese, tomato, and spinach.

    Fill a pepper with spring mix, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and an olive oil-based salad dressing for a fun way to do a side-salad.

    Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers

    This recipe is a good source of fiber and plant protein for the adventurous eater.  Make this on a Sunday night, as it requires more preparation time than the other other recipes.

    Healthy Lunchbox Desserts

    Step away from the Twinkies and Chips Ahoy. A lunch box dessert doesn’t have to be filled with calories and chemicals. Try these instead:

    Homemade Pudding Made with Nonfat Milk

    Pears with Nutmeg

    This is a great way to introduce your kids to delicious, healthy desserts. Fruit sugar is sweeter than table sugar and comes with many other beneficial nutrients that help to fuel your loved one.

    Apple Slices with Cinnamon

    This idea came from a devoted Midtown member who uses this as a snack on her bike rides.

    Vanilla Greek Yogurt Mixed with Peanut Butter

    For the Snack Bag

    Trail Mix with Nuts, Raisins, and Homemade Popcorn.

    Find great recipes here.

    Carrots/Celery with Peanut Butter

    Ants on a log. Why? This snack has healthy fiber and two heart-healthy ingredients. Plus, they are fun to prepare and eat!

    Fruit and Veggie Skewers

    Have your child pick out his/her favorite fruits. Try to incorporate at least three different colors.  If making a veggie skewer, add a yogurt-based salad dressing or homemade hummus for dipping.

    Freshly Cut Vegetables with Homemade Hummus

    Find a great recipe for hummus here.

    Homemade Energy Bars

    There are many variants of these, such as those found here and here.

    Here’s a recipe I developed out of frustration after reading the suspicious ingredients on just about every store-bought energy bar I’ve picked up. Energy bars shouldn’t have 30 ingredients. Here’s my simple and healthy alternative with ingredients you know and recognize.

    Ingredients

    ½ cup coconut flour
    2 cups whole oats
    1 cup natural unsweetened appleasauce
    2 mashed medium bananas
    1 cup peanut butter
    1 cup raisins
    5 dates
    ½ cup pumpkin seeds
    ¼ cup sunflower seeds
    1 T vanilla
    ½ tsp salt
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
    2.  Line a brownie pan with parchment paper.
    3.  Combine oats, coconut flour, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, salt, and cinnamon together in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
    4.  Chop dates, add in to dry ingredients.
    5.  In a separate bowl, combine mashed bananas, applesauce, and vanilla.
    6.  Add wet ingredients into dry ingredient bowl.
    7.  Add peanut butter and mix thoroughly.
    8.  Press into pan and cook for 30 minutes.
    9.  Cool to room temperature and cut into 24 bars
    Nutrition information per bar (1/24th of pan): 159 calories, 9g fat (2g saturated, 0g trans-fats), 5g protein, 3g fiber, 93mg sodium, and 210mg potassium.

    Pre-Sports Snacks

    Nutrition before a workout or an after-school activity involving exercise should be low in fat and fiber and provide a moderate amount of carbohydrates and protein.

    Low-Fat Yogurt

    String Cheese and an Apple

    Banana and 1 Tbsp Natural Peanut Butter

    Homemade Energy Bars

    Aim for higher carbohydrates and less fat than a typical trail-mix type bar.

    You can find even more healthy lunch and snack ideas by following our Healthy Kids Pinterest board here.

    What’s your child’s favorite healthy snack? Let us know in the comments section.

    4 Ways to Avoid a Fitness Plateau

    Mark Levine, Personal Trainer from Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn, IL, is back to talk about overcoming the dreaded fitness plateau, one of the most challenging parts of meeting a fitness goal.

    In the outdoor cycling world, reaching a plateau often gives you a needed break before you ascend another gradient of incline. However, if your goal is to get stronger or lose weight, then reaching a plateau is an obstacle that you need to overcome and not embrace.

    A fitness plateau happens when your progress toward gaining strength or losing weight stops and levels out. This can affect you both emotionally and physically, and can become a critical time in your fitness journey, as some people tend to quit as the effort they’re putting in no longer shows results.

    Here are four techniques to ensure you don’t get stuck on a fitness plateau:

    1. Calendar Train/Periodization

    When you flip the calendar page to the next month, change your workout. I often see people lifting the same amount of weight and performing the same number of repetitions each time they visit the club. When you work out this way, your body is smart enough that it operates more efficiently and doesn’t need to burn as many calories as it used to and the body doesn’t work as hard to gain as much strength.

    You can also make changes on a weekly basis. For example if you are weight lifting, you can lift heavy twice a week with fewer reps and lift light once a week with increased reps. The following week you would switch it up so you lift light twice a week and lift heavy once. Your body doesn’t know what to expect, and therefore it won’t operate on cruise control.

    2. Cross Train

    I cannot stress enough the benefits of cross training, or regularly switching up your workouts. Cross training allows you to keep your body guessing as to what it will need to do. For several days last week, I worked out for thirty minutes in an anaerobic (almost breathless) mode. Then, I went for a 2.5-hour bike ride. At some point during the ride, my body began to suffer. I had been training it for thirty minutes of hardcore work and not an endurance workout.

    The bottom line is to keep your body guessing. For any economists out there, cross training is the macro version of calendar training.

    3. Increase Intensity

    Whether you’re doing cardio or weight training, you need to increase the intensity to prevent plateaus. If you are doing cardio, mix up the workout by either increasing the incline, adding speed, or both. Don’t stay at the same speed or incline for the entire session. If you plan on running for thirty minutes at 6.0 mph, then your body will get used to this and you won’t get as much from your workout. Also, if you are weight training, always remember to add weight and reduce the repetitions. Even if you work out intensely, make sure one of your workouts is easier or reduce the weight. Engage in the same type of workout, even an intense one, and your body will get used to those types of workouts.

    4. Avoid Overtraining

    When weight training, take some rest days.  Rest days allow your muscles to grow. Even bodybuilders build in a rest day or two during their weekly training schedule. If you currently break your weight training into upper body one day and lower body the next, then you are giving your upper body a rest on the day that you are working your lower body. If you are doing a total body workout, then take a day off and feel those muscles grow.

    Not sure if you’re overtraining? Here’s how you can tell:

    • You’re tired and don’t have the energy to work out. This is assuming you have worked out the last five days in a row. Take a day off and rest or go for a nice, easy walk if you feel like you need to do something.
    • Your heart rate is low and it doesn’t increase with a workout. If you are wearing a heart rate monitor (which I recommend), and your heart rate is low and stays low, then that is a tell-tale sign that you are overtraining.
    • You’re getting injured a lot.

    Most people don’t like change and tend to stay with what they feel comfortable. It is easy to hop on that treadmill and run 3 miles followed by some abdominal work. However, when you keep your body guessing, you’ll avoid plateaus and meet your fitness goal more quickly.

    What’s your tip for avoiding a fitness plateau?

    3 Ways to Make Summer Meals Healthier

    Summer is often a time to relax and rejuvenate, but it can also feel just as hectic as the rest of the year. Between trips to the pool, sports games and camps, celebrations, vacations, school programs, and regular work, our daily schedules are about as unpredictable as they can be.

    This unpredictability can present a challenge at meal time. It’s often easier to grab food on the road or rely on processed/packaged foods than it is to prepare healthy food at home. However, we can make healthy meals part of our summer experience without getting in the way of the fun.

    Here are three easy ways to get the most nutritional benefit out of your summer meals.

    1. Get Fresh

    In-season fruits and vegetables are your biggest nutrition allies during the summer months. Fresh produce is not only packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water, but most varieties also taste best at this time of year, which means that you don’t have to dress them up with a lot of extras!

    Look for ways to use fruits and vegetables in snacks/appetizers, side dishes, and desserts, and season foods with fresh spices to add flavor without adding calories.

    You can also give yourself an extra activity boost by growing and harvesting these foods from your own garden, or walk or bike to your local Farmers’ Market and pick out a variety of fresh produce each week.

    2. Take it Outside

    Take advantage of nice weather to prepare your food on the grill. Grilling can be one of the quickest ways to prepare meals (you can even grill ahead of time and save food for later in the week), and it’s also a very healthy cooking method when you use proper techniques.

    According to eatingwell.com, cooking meats at the high temperatures used when grilling, broiling, and frying creates compounds that are linked to some cancers.  That said, there is no evidence that grilling causes cancer, and there are steps you can take to prevent the formation of these chemicals.

    Make sure to keep your grill clean, trim excess fats from foods, and use marinades and rubs to act as a protective barrier against the high heat while adding some extra flavor.

    Additionally, cook meat and fish to the right temperature while avoiding excessive charring. Food safety guidelines indicate that poultry should be heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, ground red meat and pork to 160, and red meat steaks or chops and fish to 145.

    3. Drink up

    Traditional summer beverages including lemonade, smoothies, soda, beer, and other sugary alcoholic beverages can add a lot of extra calories and not much nutritional value to your meal (see our post on 5 Steps to a Healthy Margarita to learn how to make your favorite beverages healthier).

    First and foremost, the beverage accompanying your meal should help keep you hydrated during warm weather. Your best options limit extra sugar and avoid the diuretic effects of alcohol and excessive caffeine.

    Healthy examples of refreshing summer beverages include ice water, sparkling water, or unsweetened iced tea with lemon or lime. Low-fat milk, fruit spritzers (or watered down juices), and homemade, no-sugar added smoothies can also be great options.

    Summer meals can be healthy, delicious, and easy and fun to prepare. Not only will you feel the added satisfaction of growing and/or preparing fresh foods, but your body will also thank you for limiting your intake of processed items.

    Here’s one more bonus tip – take advantage of opportunities to slow down and create a more relaxed atmosphere during meal times. It might be tough in the midst of a busy schedule of activities, but taking your time will prevent overeating and help you enjoy the full flavor of the season.

    What are some of your favorite, healthy summer recipes?

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