Recipe: Grilled Chicken Wrap with Homemade Honey Mustard Sauce

Last weekend we bought a bag of avocados and while I am all for eating half an avocado with a meal, I’ve also wanted to find some new recipes. I found a number that looked intriguing, but many were salads. I’m not anti-salad, I freaking love salad, but I also really love sandwiches and this seemed like the perfect summer dinner.

This idea is a combination of a few sandwiches I came across. I picked what I liked from each and married what I thought would pair well together: bacon, avocado, honey mustard, grilled chicken.

What You’ll Need

  • 1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of lime juice
  • splash of red wine vinegar
  • dash of salt
  • 8 ounces of chicken breast
  • Sliced avocado
  • Sliced tomato
  • Slice of bacon (I used peppered bacon)
  • Joseph’s lavish bread or Flatout wraps

Directions:  Honey Mustard

1. In a small bowl combine stone ground mustard and honey.

2. Add lime juice a quarter tablespoon at a time. I ended up using about a tablespoon, but it’ll depend on your tastes.

3. Add a splash of red vinegar and a dash of salt.

4. Set aside to cook bacon and chicken.

Directions: Baked Bacon

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cut bacon strips in half with kitchen scissors then place on a baking sheet. You can use a standard sheet for cooking or a sheet that has a wire rack set inside. Either would be fine.

3. Bake bacon for 7 to 10 minutes or until desired crispness.

4. Remove bacon from baking sheet and place on a plate with paper toweling to remove any excess grease.

*Let baking sheet cool down before removing grease. The grease will solidify and you can easily wipe it up with a paper towel.

Directions: Grilled Chicken

1. Trim excess fat off and season if desired, I left the chicken plain.

2. Grill chicken until fully cooked, then cut into strips/slices. I grilled it on a George Foreman because it was raining – this took only a few minutes. I would suggest avoiding charring the chicken because that will change the taste.

Directions: Plating 

In the middle of a lavish bread, make a layer of sliced avocado and sliced tomato. Then place grilled chicken breast in the middle of the first layer. Top with honey mustard sauce and roll up.

Depending on the wraps you use, adding lettuce and onion could be really good with this wrap. If you’re going to add onion, consider the taste – a red onion may be more bold than a yellow onion, which is more sweet.

 

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Recipe: Paleo-ish Zucchini Bread

I feel like many people who utilize Pinterest and other platforms to get inspiration for recipes there will never truly be enough days to have time to make them all. As someone who also appreciates fitness and living a healthy lifestyle, it can also be hard to find a way to balance the competing ideas.

Two stories.

Years ago, I tried paleo. There were things I liked: bacon, learning that food is fuel, flexibility with healthy fats. There were also things I didn’t like: no peanut butter, no grains, expensive (at least for me).

I bought a few books and cookbooks so I didn’t dive in blindly. I picked up a few books that were targeted for kids because I figured that would be a good place to start. I also got a fancy paleo dessert book and sadly I haven’t made anything from it – some of the ingredients aren’t your everyday ingredient and I need to order them. It’s an investment for some of them as well. I followed a few blogs and observed how people adapted. I’ve been following PaleOMG for about six years now and it seems like it was so much longer ago than it was.

When I found her she was much more strict with paleo, but she calls herself paleo-ish, which is something that I appreciate because I love food and while I did try this style of eating years ago – I’ve learn that nutritional protocols that call for unnecessarily elimination don’t do me any good.

Anyway, I love her recipes and have dabbled with a few. I’ve kept some paleo and I’ve changed up some ingredients. Like, are you really a foodie or cook if you don’t fuck around with the recipe?

For her original recipe click here.

But what really inspired me to make this recipe is the CrossFit Games. CrossFit leaves me torn.

I’m not sure I like the idea of doing a WOD. There’s a time and place for being told what to do and with the program I just completed I felt I was able to make some changes if energy or mindset wasn’t where I thought it should be.

I do however, love some of the lifts and the fire in these athletes. Like, some of these women are just bust deadlifts three times their bodyweight. THAT’S NUTS. 

So while I don’t want to start CrossFit I do following a few YouTubers and blogs of those who do CrossFit as well as powerlifters. It’s just a different kind of mindset towards working out and raising the bar on what you’re capabilities.

Want to be mind blown? Google some of these names:

  • Lea Malo
  • Sara Sigmundsdottir
  • Laura Horvath

One of the I was watching followed around Mat Fraser – he’s the “fittest man on Earth” – two years in a row. He’s competing this year again in the CrossFit games with the hopes to take the title again. His girlfriend, Sammy, cooks for him and in the video they captured footage of her cooking and taking photos of the food. They showed her cooking Instagram, which is public, called Feeding The Frasers. This led me to the Facebook page by the same name where she reshares those photos of food and recipes.

She gave me the push for the zucchini bread. She took PaleOMG’s recipe and made a change – almond flour instead of coconut flour.

I made two changes – peanut butter instead of sunflower butter and decreased honey.

What You’ll Need

1 medium zucchini, shredded (equal to 1.5 cups shredded zucchini)

  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter*
  • 1/4 cup honey*
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons Almond flour*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • baking pan
  • parchment paper
  • cheesecloth

*Original recipe called for sunflower butter, peanut butter has a similar consistency. Just be mindful that almond butter may bake a bit different because of the consistency.

*I used less honey because while I do love my sweets, I always try to see if I can get away with decreasing sugar content. I thought it was perfectly sweet with a little less honey.

*The original recipe called for coconut flour, and the

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.Peel and shred zucchini into a bowl covered with a cheesecloth. Gather up the cheesecloth and tightly twist it closed. You want to squeeze as much water out as possible. In the original recipe, she used paper towels, however, I find cheesecloth to be a lot easier to work with and you get less waste.

 

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3. Once you’ve drained as much water out as possible, discard liquid and pour shredded zucchini back into the bowl.

4. Add all other ingredients to the bowl and mix well.

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5. Place a large piece of parchment in a standard bread pan. I prefer this because the bread is going to be moist and can be hard to get out of the pan without falling apart.

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6. Pour batter into pan and bake. Keep an eye on your oven. The original recipe said to bake it for between 20-25 minutes, so I set a timer for 20 minutes to check on it. I set two additional 5 minute timers and took it out at 30 minutes.

7. Remove from baking pan and place on cooling rack. After a few minutes peel parchment paper down from the bread loaf.

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This was super easy to make and was ridiculously moist – which is why I think I had a hard time determine how cooked with was. It may have been able to be in a for a few minutes less, but rather safe than sorry because the top still jiggled a bit at the 20 minute mark. The peanut butter flavor was pretty strong, so I’d be interested to see how another nut butter is in it and see if the chocolate could shine through more.

This recipe is naturally gluten-free, but I would check some of the ingredients (like cocoa because you never know).
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Day 213, Quote 22: Trust Yourself

“Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.” —Isaac Watts

I like new things. They bring mixed emotions – excitement, fear, shock, joy.

Changing up my routine isn’t new, but I guess the way I’m going about it is a bit different and that’s going to make it interesting for the next few months.

The past few weeks as I was tracking my food less and focusing on my lifting – focusing on being capable of lifting heavier, I started to think about the next step.

Every goal has and needs a different approach and while it’s not hard to talk about that with others, it can be difficult to fully take that advice.

The past 13 weeks I focused on growing strength and for some lifts it wasn’t about necessarily growing my strength to surpass old maximums, but getting back into a routine and working in the direction to at least meet old maximums.

I was in a caloric deficit the last time I hit some of these maximums, but I had to remember that I need to look at each goal in its own box. My stressors are different, my schedule is different, my goals are different (not competing). Mindset really is everything. I had started with being in a slight deficit at the beginning of this program, but I ended up dabbling on maintenance, which overall I feel okay about mentally. It’s okay for goals to change and to change during the process don’t ever let anyone tell you any different. Physically, I’m pretty okay with my size.

Transitioning to new programming is always exciting. There’s also a routine I go through in my first week – locate equipment, determine how much I want to be utilizing for specific ranges I’ve set for myself, make notes if that’s reasonable (before and after), calculate how long it takes to complete the workout. I like this routine. It helps me set the tone.

I enjoy the gym and if there wasn’t anything else to do in the day I wouldn’t have an issue spending time there, but since there are other things to do – my goal is to have fun and work hard, but be strategic. If I’m spending an hour and a half to two hours at the gym then I know I need to reevaluate what I’m doing and why it’s taking me so long.

My lift on Saturday took about 45 minutes, which I think is a completely reasonable amount of time and honestly, with how much total volume I lifted, I could’ve taken a little bit longer rests – that’s noted for this coming week.

This next block or section of time or months, or whatever – isn’t just getting a change up in programming.

MFP

Last Thursday was the last day that I tracked my food using MyFitnessPal. This tool has been tremendously helpful the past four years – as I competed, as I tracked macros. It’s a tool I recommend to anyone who is getting started.

Before any clients start a new nutritional or eating style with me, I ask them to track their food for a week. We need to know what we’re facing. Do they lean towards one macronutrient over another? Do they easily overconsume calories in general? Maybe they’re not eating enough at all. How much sugar and salt are they consuming? What about fiber?

Knowing these factors allows us to determine more strategically a better first step than diving in – not everyone can go balls to the wall on the first day and that’s okay.

This tool will always be something I recommend so don’t take this post as a diss to tracking #that90slife. But for my goals right now, it’s not necessary.

Also, taking this step with my nutrition isn’t me saying that I don’t believe in counting macros. I fully believe that this style of eating helped me focus on creating flexibility and allowed me to participate in social settings, which is something that traditional diet culture discourages or can discourage. I believe that it allowed me to not only create a healthy balance of diverse foods, but during competition season I was able to lean down for the stage without depriving myself. In between seasons, I felt that I was able to grow my strength because I was able to increase my nutrition to match my movement and goals. I didn’t feel the guilt that I had when I was focusing on clean eating.

My purpose for this break is that 1. I want a break from numbers 2. We shouldn’t want to count for the rest of our lives 3. It’s important to learn to trust ourselves. 4. Health is more than just size, it’s also about feeling.

This is truly the first time in four years that I won’t be tracking my macronutrients. I won’t be tracking calories either. However, what I will be tracking is my portion size and the specific foods. However, I would argue that after a few years of extensive tracking and understanding labels, I have a pretty good idea of where I can and should be with the food consumption in a day.

The notebook that I’m using for my workouts will also double as my notebook to journal my food intake.

I think this is the compromise to work towards tracking less and living a more normal life after weightloss. I don’t believe you can go cold turkey. Mentally it’s a hard transition from one behavior to another, just like going into weightloss to begin with, so this is an intermediary.

I’m looking forward to changing up my workouts and to focus on feeling good. Whether it was for my health or it was for competing, I was body focused – and there’s nothing wrong with that either, we should like how we look and be proud of that. However, I’ve been liking my body more at this size… even though this size is technically not a big change – recomposition is a weird thing.

What’s been eye-opening for me is the emotional connection to numbers. I’ve noticed I’ve felt less guilt for having foods like avocado or eggs – both are foods that I have always enjoyed, however, I’m not stressing out about having them in larger quantities. I always say that I’m terrible about hitting protein, but I’ve noticed that I’m more willing to consume even more fats than before. I was consuming ~60g a day, while I don’t think I was going much over that if at all, I wasn’t paranoid or too picky about my food selection this week.

Looking at the foods as whole items and working to create diversity in my day so I’m still getting the vitamins I need is definitely a bit tricky, but at the same time, I do feel like I’m getting enough calories and micronutrients overall.

I’m enjoying the foods I’m eating because they’re not really any different than before with the exception of salmon in the freezer and a few more avocados for a recipe later this week.

One “strategy” I have for tracking in this way is making sure that I’m eating an assortment of fruits and vegetables – not all dense (sweet potato/squashes) and not all volume (asparagus/broccoli). I’m making sure that I don’t consume too many grains in a day like if I have waffles for breakfast, I’m mindful of crackers, pitas, pretzels, oats throughout the rest of the day. Like before, I want my carbohydrate sources to be varying. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I’m changing up my fats and protein sources a bit, but still aiming for about 4-5 servings of protein in a day (eggs/red meat/poultry/fish/shake).

Tuesday was probably one of my favorite days. Here’s what I ate that day:

Breakfast

  • cinnamon raisin English muffin toasted with 10g of reduced fat cream cheese + 1 ounce of smoked salmon and 1/2 cup of egg whites
  • hazelnut coffee with whipped cream

Lunch

  • 4 ounces of 93/7 ground turkey + 70g of avocado (half an avocado) +100g of diced fresh tomato + 30g of Bolthouse Farm ranch dressing

Snack

  • 100g of blueberries + Oikos Zero mixed berry yogurt
  • 1″ brownie with walnuts

Dinner

  • Pita with 40g of roasted pepper spread with a whole egg

Dessert

  • slice of paleo-ish zucchini bread

My fats were a bit higher, protein a bit lower and carbohydrates were probably pretty moderate. I felt like I ate enough and woke up on Wednesday ready to go, but not starving.

As far as measurements, I think a good plan would be to check in with myself every few weeks until I adjust. It’s one thing to not look at the scale or take measurements when you’re tracking all or a portion of your food, it’s another to completely eliminate specific food tracking patterns.

I’m sure some of you think this is crazy and others are waiting to see what happens next, but really as some who gained the quickly and then lost it steadily and hasn’t lived in this body for long –  I think it’s reasonable to want to find normalcy and have a better relationship with myself and with food.

A step was to explore healthier options and lose the weight. Another step was creating the competitor and adding in the exercise. Another aspect is how to trust myself to not regain the over 100 pounds I lost. While I truly don’t believe I would ever regain that weight, I also know that I’ve never allowed myself to trust myself fully in the decision-making process.

In the future, macro counting will be utilized for other goals, but right now, I want to focus on trusting myself and where I can go in the gym riding on that.

❤ Cristina

Recipe: How to poach eggs and Salmon Benedict

I had never poached eggs until this weekend and holy moly – it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be.

If we had to rank egg styles in order of what I think is easiest to hardest to prepare the list would go:

  1. Scrambled
  2. Frittata
  3. Over medium
  4. Over easy
  5. Sunny-side up
  6. Hardboiled
  7. Omelet
  8. Poached

I never seem to get the timing just right on hardboiled eggs and I’ve ripped a number of omelets in the flipping process – trust me, it wasn’t pretty.

On Saturday, JP and I went to BJ’s Wholesale for our biweekly grocery haul and I had decided to change up some of my fat sources as well as my vegetables. We typically get our vegetables and fruits based on what’s on sale, however, going to the wholesale club drastically decreases the cost of items like blueberries, avocados and bell peppers. We still try to be mindful of how much we’re investing into our groceries in cost as well as our taste buds – when you buy bulk you are dedicating many meals to these items.

This haul resulted in whole eggs, avocados and smoked salmon as new fat sources. Blueberries, potatoes, green beans and bananas as newer vegetable and fruit carbohydrate sources.

After I got the haul home, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with the parts I bought. Since I’ve changed my first rest day to Sunday, the first thing I thought about was breakfast and I got to searching.

First of all, I looked at a few different sites to poach an egg and I wish there had been more consistency because some were just awful. The first one resulted in an egg in the trash – so sad. Thankfully, after reading through more recipes I was able to get it right.

What You’ll Need for Poaching

  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Whole eggs
  • Medium pot
  • Slotted spoon

Directions

  1. Fill a medium-sized pot with water and set to medium high heat. You want to get the pot to a low boil.
  2. Once, the water is at a boil, add 1 to 1 and a half tablespoons of white distilled vinegar.
  3. Crack an egg into a cup or small container that you can use to help slide the egg into the boiling water and turn the temperature down a little.
  4. Once the egg is in the water, set a timer for 2 minutes.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, gently scoop the egg and shake off any water.

The vinegar helps prevent the egg whites from separating and as the water boils the whites start to cook into themselves and appear as though they were cooked in the shell of the egg. 

What You’ll Need for Hollandaise Sauce for 2

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of  butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Small pot
  • Whisk

Directions

  1. In a regular bowl (what I call a cereal bowl), beat egg yolks only with 1 tablespoon of water and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Mixture will be a bit fluffy and frothy.
  2. Transfer mixture into a small pot over medium heat. Allow pot to warm up and then start stirring or whisking. I have a small whisk, a traditional size whisk may be too big and you may want to use a fork.
  3. Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes or until yolk mixture has appear to slightly cooked. As your whisking, the mixture will become more fluffy and increase in volume. The coloring will also darken.
  4. Once it appears that is has cooked, remove from heat and mix in butter.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add cayenne for spice – JP tops his with hot pepper sauce instead.

Assembly

If you want to add a grain, I would recommend toasting it so that it’s sturdy. You could also eliminate the grain and add starch like a baked red potato or sweet potato. If you’re interested in keeping it lower carb you can have the egg without a grain or starch.

  1. Layer sliced salmon on top of toasted English muffin.
  2. Gently place poached egg.
  3. Finish off with a spoonful or two of Hollandaise sauce.

Notes:

Keto/Higher fat diets: for those who do follow a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet and are looking for healthy fats to incorporate into breakfast, the poached egg with smoked salmon may be a good option. The Hollandaise does also have yolks and butter, which do contain saturated fats so moderation should be practiced – this isn’t a meal I would necessarily recommend for every day, but if it’s balanced with other lean proteins and other unsaturated fats, I don’t think it’s a problem.

Paleo/Whole Foods approach: Eliminating the grain and substituting for a different base (if desired) could be a good approach. You can also change out the butter for a paleo/whole foods approach approved butter or ghee.


Wellness Refocused Education: Does your menstrual cycle impact your strength?

Ladies – can you pin point specific phases in your menstrual cycle by your symptoms? I know, it’s not exactly dinner talk, but I’m being serious.

Do you have any varying level of these symptoms?

–        Fatigue

–        Cramping

–        Bloating

–        Breast tenderness

–        Fluctuations in body temperature

–        Energy

–        Hunger

–        Moodiness

Have you noticed a difference in your workouts around your period?

If you need a refresher about your menstrual cycle – and trust me I did after I stopped taking hormonal birth control here it is below:

*Menstrual phase – days 1 to 5

*Follicular phase – days 1 to 13

Ovulation phase – day 14

Luteal phase – days 15 to 28

*In some texts, the menstrual phase and follicular phase are grouped together

These are average lengths of time, every woman is different, which means every cycle may be shorter or longer (Reed & Carr, 2015).

The first day of the menstrual phase is when “your period” starts. A healthy period can last between three to five days. During this phase, the hormone progesterone declines. You may have some low energy and depending on how you respond to low energy levels, you may be a little irritable.

During the follicular phase your body is making itself ready for a potential guest #baby. The lining of the uterus grows and becomes thicker, the vaginal environment changes and is more welcoming to sperm. During this phase, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is released by the pituitary gland to cause the egg/ovule to grow and matures inside a follicle. Breasts may become tender because of enlarging milk ducts. After the release of FSH from the pituitary, there is a decrease in FSH, while there is also an increase in estradiol (a form of estrogen) and testosterone (Reed & Carr, 2015). You may have more energy, but a decrease in appetite because of these hormonal shifts.

Ovulation occurs for up to 24 hours. During this phase, the egg is released in response to luteinizing hormone (LH). This 24 hours is crucial for someone wanting to become pregnant. Estradiol and testosterone are at their peak levels.

The luteal phase is the final phase of your menstrual cycle. If the egg has not become fertilized it dies, then the endometrium sheds its lining (your period). Progesterone decreases during this phase, which also can cause a rise in body temperature. During this phase you may also have cramps due to muscle contraction to rid the body of nutrients that had been stored in preparation for a fertilized egg. You may have cravings for carbohydrates during this phase as well as other symptoms like bloating, anxiety, moodiness – these are going to be similar symptoms as experienced during menstrual phase.

Quick recap: luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulation hormone (FSH), estradiol (E2) and progesterone (Prog) and testosterone fluctuate during menstrual cycle. Estrogen and testosterone reach their peak prior to the menstrual cycle or at the time of ovulation (Sung, et al., 2014). There are also other hormones like prolactin (stimulates the production of milk in the mammary gland) that change during the menstrual cycle that we won’t be talking about in this post (Marieb & Hoehn, 2016).

Hormonal changes during different phases of the menstrual cycle can cause changes to energy levels, hungry levels, mood, etc., but can hormonal levels impact our training?

Is it possible to be strategic in your training schedule other than picking days that fit with other priorities?

Much literature discusses that changes in female steroid hormone levels can affect the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and metabolic functions (Pallavi, Souza, & Shivaprakash, 2017).

According to a 2014 study that examined about 20 women in their mid-20s, it’s probable that the rise in testosterone prior to (in the follicular phase), or at the time of ovulation could “account for differences in strength, muscle diameter and muscle cell characters between follicular – compared to luteal phase-based strength training (Sung, et al., 2014).”

This is a small study, which means that while the findings are interesting, there needs to be further investigation to determine their validity and ability to be found in a larger group. One limitation that the study does mention is that researchers compared phases such as the follicular phase to the luteal phase, rather than analyzing hormone concentration in different parts of the phases like the early follicular phase when menses occur versus the later part of follicular phase when both estrogen and testosterone hormones are close to peak.

Another study conducted in 2016, utilized 100 healthy volunteers – again a small study, but larger than the first in 2014. Three trial periods were conducted to test muscle strength and throughout the courses of the study all participants were “oriented to not ingest any kind of energy drink including caffeine and alcohol as well as not to perform any sort of physical activity one day before or on the day of the tests (Pallavi, Souza, & Shivaprakash, 2017).” Similarly, this study found work done was significantly greater during the follicular phase with the same phase having the least amount of fatigue. Participants showed the most fatigue during the menstrual phase followed by the luteal phase. Researchers concluded that changes during a normal menstrual cycle could indeed affect exercise performance and should be considered for training (Pallavi, Souza, & Shivaprakash, 2017).

Let’s talk hormones. The body secretes about 50 different hormones – each one with distinct functions. Hormones are released from glands in the endocrine system.

The major glands that release the hormones we’re discussing in this post are: anterior pituitary gland (FSH, LH), ovaries (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) (Marieb & Hoehn, 2016).

Just to give you a little background on hormones so you can find your way out of the rabbit hole later. Structurally, there are different kinds of hormones: amines, polypeptides, glycoproteins and steroids (Marieb & Hoehn, 2016).

Please note, that steroid hormones are made from cholesterol (fat), which is why it’s important to consume enough dietary fat in your diet. It’s also another reason why there can be fluctuations in menstrual cycle when a female reaches a significantly low body fat percentage.

Looking at the hormones that may impact your training – Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are steroid hormones. While estrogen and progesterone are known to be in women, testosterone is also naturally produced in women, just at much lower levels than in men. Both LH and FSH are glycoprotein polypeptide hormones.

Testosterone is classified as an anabolic steroid hormone, which stimulates protein synthesis and muscle development. This is one reason why men may have an easier time developing muscle and losing weight. Like some research has shown, it may also be one reason why strength increases during the middle of the follicular phase.

Now, while it’s possible that hormonal fluctuations can make us feel like superwoman, other studies have also examined the frequency of training during menstrual phases and how that may impact hypertrophy and strength.

A small study (14 women with regular periods) found there were no major differences in muscle hypertrophy and strength when comparing a structured “menstrual phase-dependent” program to any other training protocol (Sakamaki-Sunaga, Min, Kamemoto, & Okamoto, 2016).

However, like all studies they’re were holes or aspects that could’ve been approached in a better way. Researchers examined arm curl strength over 12 weeks, having participants perform three sets of eight to 15 repetitions during different phases of menstrual cycle. However, the biceps are a small muscle, which means that the load they can handle may not be capable of great change in a 12-week time – other factors like other accessory movements would need to be considered before determining the viability of this result. Examining a deadlift or squat movement may have more telling results.

I do think a combination of factors need to be considered to see if you can push your strength at different times of cycle.

Consistency will always be queen. Regardless of your hormones, if you’re training is consistent then you will see progress over time.

Nutrition and sleep are also important factors to consider when training and seeking to develop strength. If you’re exhausted, you have a higher risk for injury. Sleep also can impact hormone levels, which can have positive or negative impacts on other organ system function. If you’re not fueling appropriately then you’re going to feel fatigued and have a harder time recovering from intense workouts. Time of day may be an impactful factor that you want to consider.

While my cycles are still irregular – even after being off of hormonal birth control for a year, I do notice a difference in my overall energy levels during the follicular phase, which impact my lifts. I also have significant breast tenderness, which can impact how I feel during certain chest-focused exercises like bench press or movements laying facedown. These are the times that I look to different carbohydrate sources and focus on what helps me feel good – usually more fiber, less simple sugar foods (natural and added). I’ve moved training around and also changed up my training times to ensure that I’m at a peak energy time, which means not too late in the day.

I would ask yourself are you able to be this in tune with your body and are you noticing a difference overall that should be considered when creating your programming?

References

Marieb, E. N., & Hoehn, K. (2016). Human Anatomy and Physiology. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions.

Pallavi, L., Souza, U. D., & Shivaprakash, G. (2017). Assessment of Musculoskeletal Strength and Levels of Fatigue during Different Phases of Menstrual Cycle in Young Adults. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, CC11-CC13.

Reed, B. G., & Carr, B. R. (2015). The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. In B. G. Reed, & B. R. Carr, Endotext. South Dartmouth: MDText.

Reis, E., Frick, U., & Schmidtbleicher, D. (1995). Frequency variations of strength training sessions triggered by the phases of the menstrual cycle. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 545-550.

Sakamaki-Sunaga, M., Min, S., Kamemoto, K., & Okamoto, T. (2016). Effects of Menstrual Phase-Dependent Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 1727-1734.

Sung, E., Han, A., Hinrichs, T., Vorgerd, M., Manchado, C., & Platen, P. (2014). Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. Springerplus.

Recipe: Eggless Banana Brownies

Sometimes when I want to bake, I don’t want to have to plan a recipe. I don’t want to go out and compile all of the ingredients. Sometimes I want to be able to look around the kitchen and see if there’s anything that can be made from what I already have.

Mushy bananas are good for a few things: banana bread, banana muffins, oats and pancakes. But, they can also be a good base for other baked goods like brownies – you just need to remember what it is that you’re making.

What I love about brownies is how fudgey they are. I don’t like cakey brownies. I like fudgey, dense brownies. When I make brownies from scratch I add chocolate melted from a double boiler and cocoa powder. Thinking about an alternative brownie, I wanted to have some things similar like the fudgey texture and the obvious – chocolatey taste. I intentionally left out a rising agent because I really didn’t want to have to take time to figure out the right ratio so that it would rise instead of become hard or stay flat.

So if you’re wanting something kind of fudgey, but not fluffy, this may something for you to try. This was a solid first go, but I’m definitely interested to see what happens as this recipe evolves.

What You’ll Need

  • 3 small bananas (~220g)
  • 1.5 scoops of chocolate whey casein protein powder (~50g)
  • 1 tablespoon of almond milk (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup of chocolate chips
  • cooking spray

Directions

1.Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel and mash bananas in a medium sized mixing bowl. Three small bananas should do, if you have two medium bananas that’s also fine. If they’re a bit larger you may need to add slightly more cocoa powder later.

3. Add protein powder to mashed banana mixture. I used PEScience Chocolate Cupcake because it’s what we had in the house, it’s also my chocolate protein of choice because it’s very chocolate-y.


4.If you find that the mixing the protein into the mashed bananas is difficult, add 1 tablespoon of milk or milk alternative. I used almond milk and it was plenty.

5.Once you’ve mixed the protein powder and banana, add cocoa. I use Hershey’s, but you can probably use any baking cocoa powder of choice.

6.(optional) Mix in chocolate chips. I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao. They’re a bit larger chips that I usually use in baking unless melting, but these were a good choice. Again, like the cocoa, you can use any chocolate chip you want to.


7. I won’t lie, this is where having a smaller baking pan would’ve done me some good. I have small loaf pans, but I didn’t want a thick loaf because of what that could do to baking time.

Spraying a standard brownie pan, I spread the batter as evenly as possible. If you use a smaller pan, the baking time will be slightly longer so it cooks thoroughly. Bake for 20 minutes. I set a timer for 15 minutes and after checking on them kept them in for another 5 minutes.

8.Using a spatula, remove the from baking pan and let cool on a rack.
img_2584

9.After cooling, cut into pieces. I cut the brownie sheet into 9 mostly equally pieces.

Tasting and texture notes: Definitely fudgey, even though they weren’t thick pieces. The overall texture is a little chewy, which I don’t mind. Minimal banana flavor since there’s A LOT of cocoa.

Nutrition: ~80 calories per square. 3F/10C/5P – ~2g of fiber

I think this is a good base for an alternative brownie recipe. I didn’t want to play with rising agents and maybe alternative flours. I have almond flour that I’ve been trying to figure out what else I want to do with it other than cookies – which is my favorite thing to do with it.

 

Recipe: Smoothie bowl

I won’t lie, whenever I see smoothie bowls online I am always envious because they also look delicious and perfectly put together. I don’t know about you, but fruit doesn’t keep me very full so it’s something I typically pair with something else. I may have berries in my oats or a banana with my protein shake. I top yogurt with fruit and nuts sometimes. But on it’s own I could eat a ton of fruit and not be full for long.

However, since  March we’ve been consuming a ridiculous amount of fruit that has led to the purchase of large bags of frozen mixed fruit. It lasts longer than fresh fruit and it’s perfect for in yogurt and smoothies. I do buy fresh, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE crisp fruit, but honestly guys, read the labels. Frozen fruit is just as nutritionally dense as fresh and you can find bags that have NO additives, which makes it a pretty economic choice when some fruits aren’t in season.

What brought me to this recipe is the search for a snack while lunch was cooking. For me this was an appetizer to baked chicken. I was running low on veggies and was trying to figure out a carb to have with lunch. I then realized that I could just have lunch in parts and call it a meal.

What You’ll Need

  • 1 cup of frozen fruit
  • 1/4 cup of milk or milk alternative
  • 1-2 tablespoons of protein powder
  • Optional toppings: nuts, seeds, granola, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, more fruit

Directions

1. In a food processor, grind/chop 1 cup of frozen fruit for a few minutes. You’re going to want to pulse the fruit as it start to chop. I used mixed fruit from Dole that I got a sale a few weeks ago.

*Using a few fruits gives a good base of flavor and textured. You could combine bananas, strawberries, blueberries, etc. if you don’t have a pre-bought bag.

2. Add a 1/4 cup of milk or milk alternative to the chopped fruit. I used almond milk. After blending in milk, consistency should be thick like frozen yogurt.

3. Add 1-2 tablespoons of whey casein protein powder. I added 1 tablespoon, which is about 1/4 scoop of protein powder. The more protein you add, the thicker it’ll be and you may need to add a little more milk. If you’re using whey isolate it may not be as thick as whey casein blend. If you’re using a vegan or plant based protein, I’m unsure how thickness will be impacted.

4. Transfer fruit base to a bowl and level out.

5. Optional: Top with your favorite toppings. The fruit base will have a lot of flavor so you can eat it on its own or you can jazz it up with toppings.

* Be mindful of you’re toppings and what they add nutritionally and calorically. This base is a moderate carbohydrates base with 5-12g of protein depending on how much protein and brand (1 or 2 tablespoons) you added. Nuts/seeds/nut butter will add fat and some protein; fruit will add more carbs; coconut will add fat and carbs, etc.

Estimate nutrition for my specific base: 1f | 18c | 7p

With toppings: 9f | 30c | 9p

 

Recipe: Grilled Chicken Shawarma Skewers

Guys, it’s hot outside, which means it’s hot inside. It’s not just hot, it’s humid and muggy. If I had allergies like JP I would also bitch about the pollen count, but I don’t so I won’t.

Last year when we moved into our apartment, aside from the fitness center, one of the outdoor amenities that really excited us, was the grilling. We have access to both charcoal and gas grills. While charcoal is perfect for s’mores, gas is perfect for everything else.

We’ve grilled more this year than last year and that’s because we have more time and our jobs allow us to be home at roughly the same time. While grilling is easy and the dinner prep is minimal, it may require more hands than two.

This recipe is something that I made last week so that we had something quick to eat after work, but didn’t have to put too much energy into it – the heat kills our motivation for cooking and the last thing I want is a hot kitchen.

Aside from Pinterest, I have way too many cookbooks for someone my age and a subscription to Food Network Magazine. I get ideas and then roll with them. This one is a combination of three recipes – from the spices to the ratios.

What You’ll Need

  • Chicken breast of tenders
  • Ground Cumin
  • Curry powder
  • Minced garlic
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Skewers (wood or metal)
  • Plastic bag

Directions

1. Trim excess fat and cartilage off of your chicken, then cube into small bite-sized pieces. I used 8 ounces of chicken, so my ratios are for 8 ounces, which is about two servings.

2. In an empty, plastic bag add a teaspoon of each: ground cumin, curry powder and minced garlic. As far as brands, I don’t use a specific brand – I buy what’s affordable/on sale at the time I need it. The store brand is fine and if you’re brand loyal, that’s also fine.

3. Add to the bag, juice from half a lemon. I opened the bag and squeezed it directly in.

4. Add a tablespoon of olive oil (not pictured) to the bag.

5. Add chicken to the spice bag, seal and shake. When sealing the bag, don’t remove all the air out so that the chicken has freedom to move around and get coated.

*After bagging my chicken, I put it in the fridge for the day while I went to the office. To prevent potential contamination, I placed the bag in a glass bowl on the bottom shelf.

6. Divide chicken in half and skewer.

7. Pre-heat grill for a few minutes so the grate can get up to temperature, this may take 3 to 5 minutes. Place skewers on hot grill cooking each side for about 3 to 5 minutes. The duration may change depending on how big the chicken has been cut and how much chicken is on each skewer.

How we plated:

9. Slice a red onion and tomato into small pieces. I cut red onion rings in half. I also did the same to the tomatoes.

10. On a pita, spread a tablespoon of hummus (plain, garlic or roasted red pepper would pair well with the spices) and a tablespoon of tzatziki.

10. Place red onion and tomatoes on the pita and sprinkle some feta.

11. De-skewer chicken and place on top of pita.

If you’re not interested in plating like we did, this would be great with rice and veggies – we had broccoli and salad on the side of ours. You could also use it on top of salad.

Do you enjoy grilling in the summer?

❤ Cristina

Recipe: Egg Stuffed Red Onion

Eggs and egg whites are a staple in our house. We eat them a ton of different ways, although it’s fair to say scrambles and omelettes are the easiest and most often form they’re consumed in.

AS we packed up to head to JP’s parents house for the weekend…and decided to bring a few things with us that we didn’t want to have to throw out when we returned, I found myself with two bowl-like pieces of red onion. The first thing I thought was “I could cook an egg in there.”

I’m pretty sure not many would think of that, but I did.

A few years ago, I shared a recipe for egg stuffed tomatoes – something I still make, but not as often. While that recipe is easy and a favorite of mine, it leaves you with soft almost fully cooked yolks. It also involved a bit more time and an oven.

What You’ll Need

  • red onion bowls or thick red onion rings
  • eggs – 1:1 egg per onion piece
  • cooking spray
  • shredded cheese (optional)

Directions

1. If you have a whole onion, cut thick slices about half an inch to an inch thick. Separate the rings and utilize the largest rings. If you have an end piece of an onion like I did, cut the bottom of the onion out like pictured below.

2. Using cooking spray, lightly coat a skillet and place onion rings or bowls in the pan. Cover with a lid for a minute or two so that steam can help soften the onions. Flip onions and recover for another minute.

3. Crack a whole egg in the middle of the onion bowl or ring. Allow for the bottom to cook before recovering pan with lid. You shouldn’t need any more cooking spray than the initial amount used in the beginning when the onion was added to the pan.

4. Uncover the pan after a minute to determine doneness. If you like your yolks runny, cooking may only take a minute or two. If you prefer a more cooked or soft yolk, allow egg to cook covered for about 3 or 4 minutes.

5. Garnish with shredded cheese. I choose mozzarella and used about half a serving per egg. This step is optional and so is the amount. If you like cheese or have more room for higher fat in your diet then go to town!

6. Plate a serve. We had our with fresh heirloom tomatoes and toast.

Notes: I wish I had Everything but the Bagel seasoning with me because I think those flavors would’ve been great with onion and the yolk. I choose red onions because I prefer the spicy flavor they have after cooking, but you could use any onion type. Just be mindful of cooking. I find that yellow onion cook down faster.

Nutrition for just the egg stuffed red onion: ~7F/4C/9P

 

❤ Cristina

Wellness Refocused Education: Carbohydrates Part 2

The last post talked about what carbohydrates were at the molecular level. I know it can be boring and in many cases it’s a lot of information to be taking in, but it’s also a good base to understand what they do for our bodies, how much we need and where we can find them.

What do carbohydrates do for our bodies?

The simple answer – they provide energy for us. They are the first fuel source utilized and they are preferred by different organ systems like the nervous system. This doesn’t mean we can’t get fuel from other macro nutrients like fat, it just means that the optimal choice for a healthy body is typically carbohydrates. We get 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates consumed (Thompson & Manore, 2015).

The more complex answer glucose provides the necessary nutrients in cellular respiration for the creation of Adenosine triphosphate or ATP (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015). Below is the process of cellular respiration – it utilizes glucose and oxygen, which breaks down to carbon dioxide, water and ATP, energy not used can be lost as heat (not pictured). This answer gets even more complicated, but if you’re interested and have 10 minutes, here a little video about it.

Image result for cellular respiration equation

ATP is needed in  almost all forms of cellular work. You want to dance – you need ATP. You want to run – you need ATP. You want to walk around the house cleaning – you need ATP, or maybe you don’t want it. Each action we do, from sitting at the breakfast table to lifting weights in the gym needs ATP to be performed, but they all use different amounts of energy.

Our cells can only store a limited amount of ATP, which means we need to continuously create it throughout the day.

I know some of you are thinking, yeah, but what about the keto diet and running on fat or ketones. I talked about that in this post. But for the sake of lessening carbohydrates as an enemy, we’re just going to talk about them here.

So how many carbohydrates does a person need in a day?

This question can be tricky because it goes back to the individual and the goals. Someone who is more active may need more than someone who is less active. Activity can be related to your job like a teacher who walks and stands most of the day or an office employee who sits most of their day. Activity also relates to additional exercise like lifting or running or yoga or swimming.

Currently, it’s recommended that carbohydrates make up the largest part of your nutritional intake between 45-65% of calories. The United States bases these numbers off of a 2,000 calorie diet – so for the sake of round numbers means 900 calories (225g) to 1,300 calories (325g) should be consumed (Thompson & Manore, 2015). That’s a lot of carbohydrates.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences “estimates that the average adult needs to take in food that provides about 2,200 calories of energy per day” but they also acknowledge that this will vary ( Institute of Medicine, 2005). Regardless, that’s a lot of calories and when I think about the conversations I hear about weight loss and dieting – many doctors suggest low calories. My doctor years ago tried suggesting I stick to 1,200 calories to lose weight. So if energy balance is estimated at 2,000 to 2,200 calories, why do people suggest such drastic nutritional decreases? Faster progress? I don’t know the answer.

Anyway, my own carbohydrate consumption makes up 42% of my total calorie intake at around 185g on average.

After working with clients, my own trial and error and other research – I don’t fully agree with this recommendation and here’s why.

  1. Many people aren’t eating a 2,000 calorie diet.

This caloric recommendation is inflated and is all to hopeful that individuals are working out a specific number of times a week for a specific length of time – that’s just not realistic. Also, not everyone needs this many calories for optimal function plus exercise. I eat just under this recommendation, sometimes going higher when I go out to eat.

2. Even those who have healthy organ function, don’t necessary feel great eating this many carbohydrates regardless of the carbohydrate source – remember fruits and vegetables are carbs too!

I can attest to this. When I consume more than 240g of carbohydrates, I feel tired and sluggish – even when the carbohydrates are combined complex from grains and simple from veggies and fruit. Some vegetables also make me bloated like brussels sprouts and broccoli because of how they break down in the digestive system #enzymes, which also means I have to be mindful of how I build my meals and how many greens I’m eating. Yes, even without the cookies or process carbohydrates, I don’t feel great eating that much.

3. Those focusing on a whole foods, minimally processed approach can easily consume more carbohydrates through beans, quinoa, rice and higher carbohydrate veggies and fruit like sweet potato, apples and bananas – but this can still be a lot of volume.

Volume keeps us full, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. If you’re too full from breakfast, even five hours later, it’ll be hard to consume lunch, which can prevent someone from hitting caloric goals. It might be great in a deficit to be full, but not so great when you’re trying to maintain or build. The feeling of constantly being full isn’t pleasant. Also, if you think about how we discuss carbohydrates and the stigma that carbohydrates lead to obesity and general weight gain – a lot of people aren’t eating beans, quinoa, rice or carbohydrate dense vegetables and fruits.

I’ve had a number of clients tell me they weren’t allowed to eat bananas and apples before because it was too many carbohydrates. My suggestion – if it fits your plan calorically/macro nutrient-wise and keeps you satisfied, there’s no reason to get upset about eating fruits.

So, what are your goals because like I mentioned above the body uses different amounts of energy to fulfill different activities.

The more intense the activity, the more carbohydrates may be necessary. The reason behind varying amounts of carbohydrate consumption? Studies have shown that most people have more than enough stored fat (body fat) to support exercise, but because of how the body uses carbohydrates we need to replenish glycogen (stored carbohydrates) (Poole, Wilborn, Taylor, & Kerksick, 2010).

Both strength and endurance athletes need an adequate amount of carbohydrates. So whether you’re lifting in the gym or are an active runner or marathoner, you may need more carbohydrates. Not only does this provide fuel to conduct the activity, it can help with preventing muscle loss by utilization of glycogen. Carbohydrates post-exercise also replenish depleted stores.

So what is adequate for an athlete? The higher end of the recommended intake for carbohydrates (45-65%) would probably be more adequate, but you need to listen to your body and how it feels on carbohydrates. Old research used to suggest over 65% of calories coming from carbohydrates, but newer studies show that isn’t necessary.

According to a study conducted in 2010 examining the role of protein and carbohydrates post-exercise found both protein and carbohydrate consumption were necessary to promote protein synthesis (the process to develop proteins i.e. muscle) and glycogen synthesis (process to replenish glycogen stores). They found that amount and timing can be impactful for synthesis, but more importantly the quality or kind of source for both nutrients played a huge role (Poole, Wilborn, Taylor, & Kerksick, 2010).

This doesn’t mean that you need to drink a protein shake immediately or you need to gobble up a cup of oats as soon as you take your shoes off.

While this post is about carbohydrates, it would be irresponsible to divide the research in protein or carbohydrates because they go hand-in-hand in this case.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Protein consumption can happen within an hour of exercise for optimal protein synthesis.
  • The kind of protein matters:
    • Casein is slower digesting
    • Whey is faster digesting
  • Digestion happens in your stomach, which can result in some bloating if you do consume large quantities of protein – not a terrible thing, but can be uncomfortable.
  • The amount of protein matters. This study showed positive results from only 20g of protein consumed post-exercise.
  • Carbohydrate consumption post-exercise was found to be most effective in glycogen synthesis for up to two hours after exercise had ended.
  • Combining the two may have the best results.
    • “A small amount of whey protein in addition to carbohydrate consumption in the recovery phase of exercise is a more sufficient means of increasing protein synthesis (Poole, Wilborn, Taylor, & Kerksick, 2010).”

So go home, shower and make your food and grow.

So where can we find carbohydrates?

When we think of carbohydrates and when I hear people talk about carbohydrates they immediately think of this:

Image result for bread

Or they think of this:

Image result for dunkin

But really, carbohydrates can also mean this:

Image result for fruit

And it can mean this:

Image result for vegetables

While I share the fun eating that I do and how it fits into my plan and lifestyle, I also have a large number of fruits and veggies in my daily diet that also make up my carbohydrate total.

Here’s what’s I eat:

  • blueberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • oats
  • sweet potato
  • broccoli
  • English muffins
  • rice
  • bell peppers
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • black beans
  • pretzels
  • pickles
  • navy beans
  • asparagus
  • strawberries
  • romaine lettuce
  • avocado
  • jalapenos
  • spinach
  • bananas apples
  • spaghetti squash

In the previous carbohydrate post, we talked about simple and complex carbohydrates and the difference. It’s about the rates in which they breakdown. Fiber can help a food be more complex and slower digesting, which can help keep us fuller for a longer period of time. It also slows the increase in blood glucose levels, which is important for people who are diabetic.

When I talk to my clients about how they’re creating their meal plans for the week, we discuss how they’re combining food and how it makes them feel. I have one client who says that she feels great with oats and yogurt in the morning, but I have another client who says lunch has to be her carbohydrate dense meal because in the morning she’ll feel sluggish otherwise regardless of how much sleep she gets.

Like I mentioned when we talked about fat and the Ketogenic diet, I believe there’s no reason for elimination of food groups and nutritional sources for someone who has healthy functioning organs. The recommendations set by governing bodies are  created from studying a healthy functioning body. Having an allergy or intolerance or autoimmune disorder/disease is a completely different story and should be controlled differently.

Eating for fat loss is about being in a deficit, which is what elimination diets assist with, but moderation of all food groups assists your body in getting everything is needs down to the micronutrient. If I’m going to be blunt – being in a deficit takes self-control, elimination diets don’t teach you how to have self-control around “normal” food or how to make better choices when going out to eat. They teach you to say “I’m allowed” or “I’m not allowed”. We learn to categorize things are “good” and “bad” – the conversation surrounding food becomes a reflection of ourselves…But that’s also a tangent for another time.

I believe that paying attention to the source of carbohydrate and how it makes you physically feel teaches us how to create a nutrition plan that fits our needs. I don’t like being bloated so I try to not eat broccoli and Brussels sprouts on the same day, unless I’m also taking a digestive enzyme. I know I feel better with moderate carbohydrates so I stay between 150 to 200g of carbohydrates.

I challenge you to think of carbohydrates in this way. Ask yourself:

  1. What carbohydrates you enjoy eating and how they make you feel?
  2. What foods are your surprised to learn are carbohydrates?
  3. Does your daily diet consist of simple and complex carbohydrates?
  4. Do you consume more simple or more complex carbohydrates?
  5. Could you be more balanced in how you create your daily plan so that you stay satisfied to stay on track and accomplish your nutritional goals whether they’re for fat loss, maintenance or building?

There are days I know I can be better and choose a piece of fruit over a piece of chocolate – we all have those days. But I also know that a piece of chocolate won’t hurt me just like one serving of fruit or vegetable won’t exactly help me. It takes a string of good days to add up to progress. Just like it takes a string of bad days to really make a detrimental impact.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t yell at the cookies when you walk by the snack aisle. Remember vegetables are carbohydrates too.

 

References

Institute of Medicine. (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Poole, C., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., & Kerksick, C. (2010). The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. Journal of Sports Science Medicine, 354-363.

Reece, J. B., Taylor, M. R., Simon, E. J., Dickey, J. L., & Hogan, K. (2015). Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections. New York: Pearson Education.

Thompson, J., & Manore, M. (2015). Nutrition: An Applied Approach. San Francisco: Pearson Education.