Fueling for Fitness

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the topic of meals before, during and after workouts.  As I’ve talked about in the past, it is very important to ensure that your body has the fuel it needs to recover properly.  This led us to the theory that there is a window of time surrounding your workouts where nutrition has a heightened importance, however we mainly focused on the timing and composition of the post-workout meal.

Along with all the seemingly infinite fad diets that are in circulation, there are just as many theories about when and what to eat throughout the day.  Is fasted cardio the best solution for weight loss? Should we carb-load before every leg day? If we just eat protein can we gain endless amounts of muscle?

As a brief science overview, in the presence of oxygen our bodies utilize carbohydrates and fat to produce ATP.  ATP is then used as energy by the muscles and other body systems to power our bodies through a workout (or any daily activity for that matter) such as curling a dumbbell, pressing a barbell off of the chest or pulling the body up over a bar.  

While the body does contain some energy reserves, mainly fat in adipose tissue, the most readily available fuel source is going to be the carbohydrates and fats that have not yet been converted and stored as fat.  Muscle protein is also available for backup energy, but this only happens in cases of extreme energy depletion.

Interestingly, some studies suggest that certain hormonal changes during a fasted state may be beneficial to fat loss, while at the same time minimizing muscle protein use for energy.  One study by Nørrelund H, et al. builds upon previous research showing an increase in growth hormone levels while in a fasted state.  They go on to show that growth hormone plays a key role in protein preservation during fasted exercise.

So you may not lose muscle when training in a fasted state, but how does this affect energy levels and performance.  Exercising in a fasted state may be beneficial to fat loss, but if you are unable to perform to the best of your abilities in the gym, you will not be able to stimulate muscle growth either.

This ultimately comes down to individual preference and response to eating.  Some people may feel full and sluggish after eating a large meal before a workout, whereas others will struggle to add weight to their lifts without the added energy supply.

The type of workout is also important here.  For example, if you are going into the gym for heavy strength training, your muscles are going to need the added carbohydrates to fuel your progress.  When lifting in a fasted state, you may have more trouble adding extra pounds onto your lifts.

On the other hand, if you are waking up and headed out for a 30-minute run, this is not as big of a concern.  Refer to my post workout meal tips following any fasted exercise!

In terms of what to eat pre-workout, we know that consuming carbohydrate-rich meals an hour or two before exercise has been shown to boost performance.  In particular, carbohydrates with a lower GI index have been shown to increase fat oxidation (Michael J. Ormsbeem et al.). These are foods such as whole grain bread, apples, quinoa or broccoli.

Eating protein before a workout has also been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis (growth), however, the effects are much greater if the protein is ingested with carbohydrates as well (Tipton KD, et al.).

In terms of fat, there is little research suggesting that focusing on fat before a workout will help muscle growth or fat loss.  If you eat foods high in fat before working out, you may feel more full, bloated and sluggish.

Some food recommendations:

  • Peanut Butter Sandwich
  • Overnight oats with protein and berries
  • Greek yogurt and granola
  • An apple and peanut butter
  • Sweet potatoes and chicken
  • Brown rice and broccoli

In terms of food to avoid, we go back to personal preference.  Steer clear of greasy foods such as pizza or burgers, spicy foods or carbonated beverages.  These can all lead to feeling bloated and their digestion will sap away at your energy. Overly sweet items whether desserts or fruit juices should also be avoided.  While they are a source of carbohydrates, they are high on the glycemic index and are therefore digested quickly, giving you a quick spike of energy followed by a crash.

In summary, the key factor in deciding what and whether or not to eat before working out comes down to your personal fitness goals and the type of training you are therefore looking to do.  If you are looking to gain muscle, your body is going to need fuel to allow yourself to progress in your lifts. If you are looking to lose weight, training in a fasted state may work for you so long as you are still able to maintain enough energy to get through your workout, however, when training in a fasted state having a well rounded post-workout meal is paramount to muscle recovery.

For our easy to follow healthy recipes, click here!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Burger on the Brain

Adherence is a word we hear tossed around all of the time when it comes to dieting.  The underlying claim of most fad diets is that they are easier to adhere to.  Who would not want to follow a diet that allows them to eat bacon and steak throughout the week?

While at the end of the day, a “diet” will only work if you are able to consistently remain in a caloric deficit, these marketing strategies are on the right track.  “Adhering” to a given diet simply means you are able to adopt it as a habit and incorporate it into your lifestyle.

I think we can all agree that the hardest diets to stick to are the ones that are most restrictive.  We are going to have a harder time maintaining a diet that forbids half of the foods we love to eat than one that asks us to control the amount of them that we eat.  Again, the key here is the ability to incorporate it into your lifestyle.

Once you have changed your eating habits, you are no longer “dieting,” you have become a person who eats healthy.  You won’t even think twice about your meal choices because you will have become so aware of what you put into your body!

For this reason, I am always looking for ways to transform my favorite “cheat meals” into healthy meals.  This requires a lot of trial and error (I once tried to make pizza dough out of sweet potatoes and it more closely resembled mashed potatoes with pizza toppings…), but it gives you the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen and achieve your favorite flavors through healthy means.

Ultimately, if you are able to create meals that taste good and satisfy even your worst cravings, you will be able to adhere to any meal plan you create for yourself.

This week I found myself craving a burger with an Asian twist.  Anyone who knows me knows that pretty much everything I eat has an “Asian twist,” it’s just a flavor profile I love.

Most burgers use an 80/20 lean to fat ratio.  To keep the fat content down, I found some super lean 93/7 ground beef.  

Next, I wanted to make a healthy and crisp slaw topping, so I found a package of shredded vegetables that included cabbage, brussels sprouts and kale.  This would provide some much needed micronutrients, and to avoid using mayonnaise in the sauce, I made a quick dressing with a little sesame oil, rice vinegar and a low-carb teriyaki sauce.

For crunch, I found some crispy rice noodles.  In moderation, these aren’t so bad, but if they are fried they could arguably be the least healthy ingredient in this recipe.

Depending on your carbohydrate goals for the day, you can opt for low-carb buns or just go bunless and eat the burger over the slaw or in a lettuce wrap.  Just remember to check the nutritional facts on the package to make sure there are no added sugars or unnecessary preservatives.

At this point, all that’s left is to grill up your burgers and assemble them with your toppings.  I would recommend serving up some grilled vegetables on the side, this will help you to feel more full and it’s always a good idea to sneak extra veggies into your diet!

See the full recipe here!

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Chorizo Ground Beef

Ground beef is one of my favorite proteins to use for meal prep as it is convenient and flavorful.  For some, beef may stand out as a high-fat protein, but it does not have to be.

If you look closely at the packaging, you will find some beef is ground to a 90/10 lean to fat ratio, and some even get as lean as 93/7.  You can also tell by the color, as ground beef with a higher fat content will typically be lighter. This is valuable information when it comes to controlling the amount of fat in your diet.  

Lean beef is also a great source of zinc, iron and vitamin B12.  Personally, I like to go for the 90% lean beef as I usually have trouble hitting my daily intake target for fat.

Beef also has a lot more flavor than chicken breast and because it has a little more fat, it readily takes on any spices you choose to cook it with.

I would still recommend rotating your proteins throughout the day and week.  For example, if you have ground beef tacos for lunch, you may want to eat chicken breast or tuna for dinner.  Maintaining a bit of variety will help with adherence to your diet. It will also help to keep saturated fat intake low.  

One of my favorite preparations for ground beef is with a chorizo spice blend.  This is a smokey, savory and slightly spicy flavor profile inspired by Spanish and Mexican cuisines.  You will also find it is very versatile, lending itself to simple preparations with rice or as the base for tacos.

Tacos, like beef, also get a bad rap.  As with most dishes, if you prepare them at home you get to control how they are made.  While restaurant tacos may be laden with fattier cuts of meat and mayonnaise-based sauces, utilizing fresh ingredients at home will yield an even healthier and better-tasting result.  You can even opt for corn tortillas if you are avoiding gluten! I personally like the flavor of corn tortillas better.

While recipes may vary with long lists of ingredients, it is easy enough for the home cook to achieve this flavor with just five or six simple ingredients.  A little garlic, onion, paprika, cumin and cayenne go a long way in this recipe. Your beef chorizo will come together in no time!

Start by sauteing some minced garlic in fat-free oil.  When the garlic begins to brown add diced onion and allow it to cook until it becomes translucent.  

At this stage, I would add a little red wine to deglaze the pan so all the flavor from the cooked garlic and onions is ready to be absorbed by the beef.  The calories added by the wine are negligible as most of the alcohol will be cooked off almost immediately.

Now you can add the beef to the pot straight from the package, stirring to break it up and mixing all of the ingredients together.  I will give rough estimates on how much of each spice to add in the recipe, but I would encourage you to use these only as guidelines, tasting as you go and adding more or less based on your preferences.  

With time, these simple recipes will give you the confidence to season your own dishes.  The more you practice, the better you will be at knowing just what is missing and exactly how much of it to add.

See the full recipe here!

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Are Late Night Meals Sabotaging your Gains?

Anyone who has faced the challenge of losing weight (which, let’s face it, is all of us) has heard the old adage “don’t eat after X:00!!” But just how much truth is behind this age old piece of advice?

There are many schools of thought when it comes to daily meal timing.  One popular way of thinking about meal timing will be familiar to anyone who counts their daily macros.  This is the “24-hour energy balance” perspective, or “calories in/calories out”. In a nutshell, you have a set of goals for how many carbohydrates, protein and fat to consume within a 24-hour day.  The only thing that matters is that you reach each of these targets, and that your total calories consumed are less than your total calories burned.

Taken to the extreme, you could save all of your meals for 11:00 at night, as long as you hit your targets.  However, this theory makes sense as all of our daily activities occur between waking up and going to sleep.  On the other, our bodies are constantly using energy even when we are asleep, and there is no “zero hour” when our calorie and macro counts restart at 0.  

Those advising against eating late at night have some merit as well, but not without their own conditions.  Night time is generally when we expend the least amount of energy. We get home from work and spend the majority of the night sedentary, watching TV or continuing to work from home.

Perhaps more importantly, the types of snacks we go for after dinner are not usually the healthiest.  Those spur of the moment trips to the fridge for small snacks add up, and if you are not careful, they can quickly become the size of an additional meal.

It should also be mentioned that insulin sensitivity tends to decrease towards the end of the day due to the fact that carbohydrate-heavy meals eaten throughout the day elicit larger insulin spikes.  A greater number of insulin spikes will reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin between fasts. Decreased insulin sensitivity can lead to carbs being stored as fat due to our bodies decreased ability and need to utilize carbohydrates for energy.  This doesn’t take into account various diets that control carb intake or fasting time frames, but still leads one to be wary of carb intake later in the day.

I believe the solution to this problem comes from bringing these two schools of thought together.  We should be keeping track of our total daily calorie intake and spreading meals throughout the day so as to provide our body with the energy it needs, when it is needed.  However, the key here is on providing energy when it is needed.  This is an idea popularized by Dr. Benardot called “within day energy balance”.

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog discussing the importance of timing your meals around your workouts.  The idea here is the same. A larger number of calories should be consumed around your workout periods, as this is when your body needs them the most.  When your body is primed for fuel, it is going to be utilized a lot more efficiently for continued energy and recovery. When your body does not need the energy, it is more likely to store it for later use.

This allows you to be more flexible with your meal timing.  For example, if you are a night owl and typically get to the gym around 6 or 7 at night, then you are going to need to refuel post-workout regardless of what time it is.  In this case, you can follow the same general rules you would for your other post-workout meals, following a 3:1 carb to protein ratio. This could be brown rice and grilled chicken, or even a smoothie or shake with fruits and vegetables to provide added micronutrients.

My advice would be to do your best to plan ahead.  If you know you are going to work out early and be busy throughout the day, then start to taper off you’re eating as you approach bedtime.  Leaving 1-2 hours to digest before going to sleep is a good rule of thumb. If your schedule leads you to eat later in the day, try to plan out what you will have.  If you hate going to bed on an empty stomach, have a small meal ready to eat so you don’t get thrown off course by the ice cream or frozen pizza that may seem more convenient.

For our easy to follow healthy recipes, click here!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Flavorful Chimichurri Sauce

One of the biggest challenges people face with eating healthy is that most of the foods that are associated with healthy eating are bland and boring.  When trying to count your calories for the day, we are pointed in the direction of chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli.  Not the most flavorful.

My favorite part about eating healthy is taking the foods that most of us perceive as boring and infusing them with flavor.  This can be a challenge.  Our go-to strategy for adding flavor to bland ingredients is usually dousing them in a sauce.  Whether it is barbecue, mayonnaise or even just ketchup, these ingredients are filled with added sugars and excessive amounts of sodium. 

My strategy against this is two pronged— for one, I try to use the freshest ingredients I can.  Think bright herbs and spices.  For this I seek out fresh parsley, basil, garlic and onion rather than turning to the dried stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, dried spices are a HUGE help in the kitchen but it just depends on the herb or spice.  Things like paprika, ground chilies, cumin or curry powder are great in their dried form and will last much longer.  From this you may notice my general rule of thumb: for herbs, go fresh, for chilies and seeds, go dried or ground.

Second, when making a sauce I try to limit myself to 5 or 6 ingredients.  This makes it much easier to translate into your calorie and macro calculations.  For an ingredient like this chimichurri sauce, the main ingredient to watch out for is using too much olive oil.  The fresh herbs, garlic and lemon juice won’t be adding much in terms of calories.

Chimichurri originated in Argentina, but there are similar “sauces” made ll around the world.  An Italian pesto or herbal salsa verde are just two examples.  These fresh sauces have been used for centuries to lend flavor to grilled meat and vegetables as well as pastas and other dishes.

Perhaps the greatest part about this style sauce is how easy they are to make.  Once we have sourced the ingredients we need (which shouldn’t be too hard, as we limited ourselves to only 5-6 ingredients), the rest is as easy as strategically throwing it all into a food processor and blending it until smooth.

I start with the garlic and a pinch of salt, the salt will help to break down the garlic.  Run the processor for 10-15 seconds until the garlic has broken down.  Now add the herbs.  I would recommend cutting the thickest parts of the stems only and utilizing the rest (if you like to make your own soups, save the leftover stems in the freezer for broth!).  If the bowl of your food processor is too small you can always add them one handful at a time.  Once the herbs have broken down add the lemon juice and red wine vinegar.  Now add the olive oil one tablespoon at a time until the sauce begins to hold together.

If you try this sauce out a really like it, you can also use it as a spread or dipping sauce.  Before adding the olive oil, add a tablespoon of mustard.  Most people don’t know it but mustard acts as a great low-calorie emulsifier substitute for eggs and oil.  Try it out on your a sandwich or grilled chicken or steak!

See the full recipe here!

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

A New Take on Lasagna

The holiday season is one that can be both rewarding and stressful.  It involves a lot of travel, eating and family time. I for one am challenged by managing my time with friends and family while traveling across the country to the cold northeast.

It also involves a lot of cooking for family dinners, work parties and potlucks.  If you have been blessed with the ability to cook, then you know the great responsibility of feeding everyone during the holidays.

I love the food we eat around the holidays because there are so many memories attached to the dishes served, many of which have been prepared since before we ourselves were old enough to cook.  These are different for every family depending on cultural and geographic origins. Many native Italians recreate the feast of seven fishes. In Venezuela and other parts of Latin America, Hallacas are arduously prepared every year, and Christmas dinner in Japan typically features fried chicken.

For my family, it is more of an Italian-American spread of lasagna, vegetable sides and garlic bread on the night before Christmas and a roast ham for Christmas supper.  Whatever your family’s traditions may be, it is important to continue to pass on these customs to younger generations. They may not care now, but they become more meaningful as time goes on

I like to use this as an opportunity to teach friends and family more about the benefits of cooking healthy meals themselves, rather than resorting to restaurant or take-out meals that can be both expensive and unhealthy.  For many, cooking seems to utilize a bit of sorcery that feels out of their grasp. By recruiting others to help, you can begin to show them the rewards of becoming independent in the kitchen.

In these situations I challenge myself to recreate nostalgic recipes with healthier ingredients while still achieving the same flavor that conjures up so many memories.

This year I took on the classic lasagna recipe.  Lasagna is typically high in carbs and fats without containing much by way of vegetables.  To avoid this, I swapped out the pasta for eggplant. After all, who doesn’t love eggplant parmesan?  This does require a little bit of olive oil to get the eggplant tender as it cooks, it also adds a serving of vegetables to the final dish while reducing the number of carbs.  

I then make the sauce from scratch to have more control over how much fat is added from oil, and to the same end using 90% lean ground beef. While this might seem daunting, being able to cook a homemade red sauce is one of the most versatile skills you can have in the kitchen.  It can then be used in anything from pizza sauce to pasta sauce and you can tailor it to your own tastes every time.

Using low-fat or fat free ricotta helps to balance out any fat from the olive oil we used on the eggplant and in the sauce.  Simply whisk together with the eggs, a little parmesan and of course salt and pepper and you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

Begin with a layer of sauce on the bottom, followed by a layer of eggplant.  They do not necessarily need to be overlapping, I just try to spread them out so you do not have all large pieces on one side and small ones on the other.  Add a thin layer of the cheese spread over the eggplant and repeat this process until you have filled the pan.

This is a great recipe for family dinners, potlucks or for meal prep throughout the week.  One casserole dish should be enough to feed at least 8-9 people. This is also a great recipe to recruit other family members to help with, and the more you can delegate, the less work you have to do!

See the full recipe here!

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Fitness and Food Timing

Structuring Meal Timing Around your Workouts

The importance of meal timing

When it comes to eating habits and fitness, one factor seems to be given more weight than all others:  when and what to eat in order to maximize muscle gains. Do you eat right after working out? Right before? During?  Many people will tell you there is a small “anabolic window” that is rapidly closing post-exercise, and you, as Indiana Jones runs and dives under the quickly closing door, must put food in your mouth before missing your opportunity for gains.

Like many things when it comes to fitness, it is never as straightforward as an Indiana Jones reference.  Let’s break things down. As we work out, energy is needed to continuously fuel muscle contractions. This is true whether you are lifting weights or endurance training.  This generally occurs through the breakdown of carbohydrates and fat.  In conditions where energy from these sources is not sufficient protein may be broken down as well.

The idea behind the post-workout meal is essentially to prevent the breakdown of protein for energy and restore muscle glycogen levels to expedite muscle recovery and repair. (Semeco, 2016)  To do this, our bodies need adequate carbohydrates and protein, but just how much, and when?  

The main problem with focusing too much on the post-workout meal is neglecting the importance of eating PRE-workout.  In fact, what you eat before you head to the gym could have a greater effect on overall muscle protein synthesis than what you eat after.  As stated in a 2001 study, “the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC [i.e., a protein/carbohydrate shake] solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise.” (Tipton, et al.)

The timing of the pre-workout meal can be up to 2 hours before hitting the gym. (Schoenfeld, et al, 2013)  Within this time frame, rushing home for a post-workout meal is not as critical, as the energy needed is still provided by what you ate before.  However, the longer you go beyond the 2-hour mark, the more important the post-workout meal will become. Because resistance training elicits greater muscle protein synthesis, having these nutrients in the body, ready to go before training will maximize their ability to fuel that process.  

As Jeff Nippard suggests, this points to the idea of a larger window that surrounds the entire workout.  Rather than focusing on just your pre- and post-workout nutrition, think of having a 4-6 hour window with your workout in the middle.  This will ensure that you always have the energy you need to get through your workout, and what is necessary to aid in muscle protein synthesis and recovery after your workout.

Because resistance training elicits greater muscle protein synthesis, having these nutrients in the body, ready to go before training will maximize their ability to fuel that process.  Eating before a workout can be tough though.  Being overly full or bloated while lifting weights, running or cycling can be uncomfortable.  This affects consistency and the amount of effort you are able to put commit.

The key here is balance.  You know you need protein and carbohydrates to fuel your workout, the trick is finding the right combination to give you energy and not slow you down.  I would suggest lighter carbs such as rice cakes, a banana or oatmeal that are quick and easy to digest. They are also easy to pack ahead of time so they are ready to eat when you are.  Since I tend to get my workouts in early in the morning, I try to have a jar of overnight oats with protein powder ready for me.

Fats are not essential for pre-workout meals, and since extra fat can lead to feeling more full and sluggish, I would suggest avoiding it if possible.

In terms of what to eat post-workout, many suggest a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.  The carbohydrates will help to restore muscle glycogen and the protein will help with the muscle protein synthesis that is already underway. (Zawadzki, 1992)  This could be something like chicken and rice, sweet potatoes and eggs, or beans and rice.  

My go-to post-workout breakfast is three eggs, 1 cup each of black beans and rice and 150g of sweet potatoes.  This tallies up to 115g carbohydrates, 40g protein and 16g fat.  This hits the 3:1 carb to protein ratio, with some fat to help me feel more full throughout the morning and to work towards my daily macro goals.

Remember, just because you worked out and need a post-workout meal does not mean you should rush to the nearest drive through.  The quality of food you put in your body now is more important than ever. If you’re trying to build lean body mass, your muscles need quality fuel.  You wouldn’t put the lowest octane gas in a performance car, would you?

It should be noted too that this is only a small portion of your day, and you still want to focus on achieving your overall daily intake goals for protein, carbohydrates and fat.  

To sum things up, the key here is to look at the big picture.  There is a larger window surrounding your workouts in which your body needs quality fuel in the form of carbohydrates and protein.  If you happen to be training fasted, then the post-workout meal becomes more important. If you’re not going to be able to eat right after your workout, then pad that with a little bit more food before you hit the gym.  

If you’re serious about your training and getting your body to where you want it to be, knowing exactly how to fuel it is key!

For our easy to follow healthy recipes, click here!

For links to references, click here!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Healthy Thai Beef Salad with Rice

One of my favorite Thai Beef Salad recipes

One look in my pantry and you will be able to tell what my favorite type of food is.  My cupboards are full of ingredients that seem foreign and random to most, but to someone familiar with cooking Thai or other southeast Asian cuisines they would be common and familiar.  

Working in a Thai restaurant really changed my outlook on food.  Both in terms of flavor and health. While at first, the cuisine was completely foreign to me, I soon came to respect the use of fresh, bold flavors and the care for balance in bringing out the perfect taste.  

In many dishes, this flavor is achieved without using added sugars, and as fish sauce is relied upon for savoriness, they are typically low in sodium as well.  Many familiar dishes use soy sauce, but this is actually a Chinese influence on Thai cuisine. 

In addition, many dishes come together fairly quickly, making them ideal for a quick meal or snack.  Once you have a few staple items in your pantry, it’s just a matter of knowing how much to add.

The type of dish I am making today is typically referred to as a Thai “salad” and comes together in minutes.  While “salad” might not be the most accurate translation, think of it as seasoned meat that lends a big punch of flavor when served alongside plain rice.

We start by grilling the steak (usually on the rare side, but you are free to cook it however you like).  While grilling, we combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir them together to allow the flavors to combine.  

A few notes on ingredients:  sticky rice powder is a common ingredient in these types of Thai salads.  If you will never use sticky rice for anything else, I would recommend just using plain white or jasmine rice.  Simply toast uncooked rice in a dry pan, tossing frequently, until browned and then give it a few pulses in a coffee grinder or food processor.  A quarter cup at a time will go a long way, and you can store it in an airtight container for a month or so.

The chili flakes are optional depending on your heat tolerance.  A touch of spice will really add to the flavor so I would recommend a pinch to start and then you can add more as you like.

Once the steak is finished cooking, let it rest for about 5 minutes (this allows the proteins to relax and allows the juices to redistribute within the meat), then thinly slice against the grain (perpendicular to the lines/striations you see in the meat, this will help prevent it from getting stuck in your teeth, if you were ever wondering) into bite sized strips.

Now just toss all of the ingredients together in the bowl and spoon over a bowl of rice.  Your taste buds will be grateful, it will taste so good it feels like you’re cheating on your diet!

See the full recipe here!

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

The Importance of Home Cooking

People nowadays are spending less and less time cooking at home.  This is connected with a decrease in the nutritional value of one’s meals week to week.  Not only are home cooked meals healthier for you and your family, but they are also easier on your budget.

A snapshot of my semi-stocked pantry.

Home cooking is a win-win, as the Director of University of Washington’s Center for Public Health Nutrition states, “by cooking more often at home, you have a better diet at no significant cost increase, while if you go out more, you have a less healthy diet at a higher cost” (University of Washington, 2017), yet less of our meals are cooked at home.  

Dining out adds novelty and excitement to eating.  A lot of people may think that their skill at cooking is limited to only a few dishes which, repeated week after week, do not seem so appealing.  Dining out gives you the option to eat cuisines and dishes that are unfamiliar and exotic.

Skill, therefore, prevents a lot of us from cooking at home.  Many recipes are overwhelming and contain so many ingredients to wrap your head around.  Not to mention the difficulty in finding some of those ingredients and, once purchased, finding other uses for them.

Time presents another hurdle to home cooking.  One 2013 study found that on average, Americans are only willing to spend about an hour a day on cooking (Smith, Ng, Popkin, 2013).  After dedicating a large portion of your day to work and getting a workout in, the last thing you want to do is spend an additional hour or two “working” in the kitchen.  Not to mention the cleanup.  Having to do the dishes after cooking a meal is the worst!

Skill and time may keep a lot of us out of the kitchen, but the benefits of becoming a confident home cook outweigh the challenges.  

When you cook something yourself, you can add anything to it you want and cater it to your exact tastes.  The more you cook a particular dish, the more it becomes your own as you are able to add your twist to it, making small changes each time.  Once you become confident cooking for yourself, you can start sharing your food with others. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than sharing food with someone and having them be as excited about it as I am.

Cooking at home is easier on your wallet and your waistline.  Consider the average cost of a meal at a restaurant. A 4-6 ounce hamburger with a handful of fries or a side salad will usually come out to around $12.  Yet a pound (16 ounces) of ground beef at the store is around $4.99, that could make two burgers (at least). Plus a $2 pack of eight buns, various toppings (that get more than one use out of them).  Add a potato or two for $1 and you’re looking at less than $12 to feed the whole family.

The health benefits can be seen as twofold.  Without even trying, home-cooked meals are associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat (University of Washington, 2017).  Foods that are eaten at restaurants often contain a lot of “hidden” calories for the sake of increasing flavor. For example, there is probably butter on the bun, mayonnaise sauce and the burger itself could be cooked in a pan with vegetable oil.  All of these unnecessary additions skyrocket the fat content.

Additionally, cooking at home gives you the opportunity to completely tailor your meals to your dieting goals.  If you have ever attempted to track your macros and calories using an app such as MyFitnessPal, you already know how hard it is to estimate the calories in a restaurant meal.  When cooking at home, you know EXACTLY what you are putting into your food, and what you are putting into your body.

In the kitchen, I challenge myself to make great tasting food without unnecessary “cheat” ingredients such as extra oil or sugar.  This usually requires a little creative problem solving but the benefits are well worth it.

There is also another benefit that a lot of people do not consider.  Once you become comfortable in the kitchen (and maybe find someone to clean up for you…) cooking can also be very therapeutic.  For me, after working in stressful restaurant kitchens for years, I didn’t think I would be able to find cooking relaxing. Yet you can really lose yourself in your cooking once you become passionate about it.  Besides, how many other tasks yield immediate benefits. After 20 to 30 minutes in the kitchen, you have a tangible, delicious meal in front of you.

So how do you start?  If you have never cooked before, I would suggest starting small.  Buy a pack of chicken breast and a few dry spices. To use them as a marinade, simply mix with a little salt.  Basil and oregano for a classic Italian combo, paprika and cumin for latin flare or ginger and a soy sauce for an Asian touch.  Let the flavors set in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.  Dry spices add little to no calories and offer near infinite combinations so they are a great way to start.  

For vegetables, the oven and grill are your best friends.  Start with asparagus, as this requires the least amount of preparation.  Break off the lighter green ends and toss in a little fat-free cooking spray or olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on the grill until charred and tender.  Don’t have a grill? No problem!  Simply utilize your ovens “broil” setting.  This can be done with pretty much any vegetable, and whenever I prepare vegetables this way for a crowd, everyone wants to know what the secret is.  Sometimes keeping it simple brings out the best flavor!

Another good thing to master is the art of making rice.  It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised at how many professional cooks I have trained who can’t make a good pot of rice, so if you can get this down it is no small feat!  The trick is rinsing the rice a few times to remove the excess starch. You can do this over a fine mesh sieve or simply fill the pot with water, swirl it around and then carefully pour the water off.  Follow the water to rice ratio on the package as it can vary by style.  I would suggest making at least 2-3 cups and saving the leftovers for later!

To help you all on your cooking journeys, I hope to continue sharing and promoting healthy recipes with the goal of demystifying specific recipes and cooking in general.  The best advice I can give is to put care into whatever you make. You can cook a two-ingredient recipe with care and it will taste better than anything else.  Fitness and food are intricately linked, and gaining the ability to cook the meals your body needs for quality fuel will help you reach your goals faster than any other factor.  

For our easy to follow healthy recipes, click here!

For links to references, click here!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Our Favorite Fall Comfort Food

Since we are well on our way through the fall, and many places are already seeing an inch or two of snow, we are all craving foods that will comfort us and keep us warm

For a lot of people, the first thing to come to mind when thinking of comfort foods is not the most healthy.  Dishes with fattier cuts of meat such as brisket (think a Reuben sandwich) or pork shoulder (think pulled pork) and lots of butter (think mashed potatoes).  Not to mention pizza or mac and cheese, dishes we are tempted by year round. In moderation, these are all ok. Most of these dishes are connected to a memory of childhood or a favorite restaurant or holiday and a single bite can take you right back to that moment.

Soups are a great way to bridge the gap between unhealthy comfort foods and foods that may fit more easily into your personal diet goals. Be warned, however, soups can lie on either end of the spectrum. Clam or corn chowder and broccoli and cheddar soup can be deceiving as a lot of that delicious flavor comes from the use of lots of cream, butter and/or cheese.

This is another instance where homemade is always the way to go.  When you cook something yourself, you can add anything to it you want and cater it to your exact tastes.  This can seem intimidating at first but the payoff, in the long run, is well worth it. The more you cook a particular dish, the more it becomes your own as you are able to add your twist to it, making small changes each time.  Once you become confident cooking for yourself, you can start sharing your food with others. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than sharing food with someone and having them be as excited about it as I am.

Butternut squash is one of my favorites and its arrival just in time for winter could not be better.  This squash is naturally sweet and contains a lot of Vitamin A and potassium. All it takes to draw out the natural flavor is some time roasting in the oven.

By minimizing the use of butter or oil, we can cut down on a lot of the fat that can be found in pre-made or restaurant versions of this soup.  For this reason, I have also made milk or almond milk optional. If you like the added creaminess, you can add as much or as little as you want, or omit it entirely.  The hardest part about this recipe is peeling the squash itself. If you are confident with a knife you can go that route, as in the video below, or to be safe a vegetable peeler will work just fine.  Once peeled you will need to scrape out the seeds with a spoon and cut the remaining squash into roughly 1-inch cubes.

While you are cutting the squash, you can have the oven heating up to around 350ºF.  Once you have the squash cubed throw it in a bowl and spray it down with some nonfat cooking spray (feel free to use olive oil or coconut oil if you would like), just enough to coat the squash.  Toss it around with some salt and pepper and now it is ready for the oven.

To save time while the squash is roasting, you can get your onion and garlic diced up and ready to go.  The size of the cut isn’t incredibly important here, as everything is going to end up in a blender at the end anyway.  After about half an hour you can start cooking the onions, as the squash should only take 30-45 minutes. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot and allow the onions to cook down.  Once the onions are soft add the garlic, I wouldn’t recommend adding the garlic at the same time as the onions, as it will cook faster and burn, adding a bitter flavor.

When the squash is “fork tender” (meaning there is no resistance when pierced with a fork or knife), add it to the pot and stir it around with the onions to combine.  You can now add the stock or water. This will allow the squash to cook down a little more and make it easier to blend in the next step.

Now its time to break out the blender or food processor.  One note on which one you use: there is a trade-off. The food processor will break everything down a lot easier than a blender, but the blender will yield a smoother soup.  Depending on the quality of the blender, you may have to continuously shut it off and stir things around to make sure everything is blending consistently and use smaller batches.  I just set a mixing bowl or another pot on the side to separate the blended from the unblended.

Once blended, you can serve immediately if it is still hot, or allow it to cool down before putting it in the fridge to enjoy throughout the week on those especially cold nights.  I would recommend hiding it in the back where no one else can find it!

See the full recipe here!

Like our post? Please leave us a comment below!

Follow us on Instagram at @cmpreevents or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMpreeEvents