How to FUEL your body for optimal athletic performance: Part 2

Last week, we kicked off my three part series on how to fuel your body for optimal athletic performance by discussing pre-race nutrition. This week we’ll talk about the ever-confusing subject of what to eat during a long training workout or endurance event. Experiment with different options before running your marathon, cycling your century, or attempting a triathlon to find what foods work best with your body chemistry. Again, remember that fuel should be a balance of nutrients, energy (calories), taste, digestion, budget and convenience.

Nutrition for Athletes Workshop with Amy Rizzotto of MOARfit

How to FUEL your body for optimal athletic performance: Part 2 – What to eat during your training workout or endurance event

(Adapted from The Thrive Diet, by Brendan Frazier)

1. Consume mostly liquid or easy-to-digest foods like gels. Solid food takes more energy and blood to digest than liquid, leaving you with less fire for movement and power. Solid food is also more likely to cause intestinal distress, which can ruin a race. Except for ultra-endurance events, skip the solids. Natural, homemade options to try are:

  • 10 oz of coconut water blended with 1 small banana (hello electrolytes!).
  • 10 oz of water, 2 Tbs maple syrup or honey, and 1 Tbs chia seeds,
  • 2 dates squished up with 1 Tbs of your favorite natural nut butter.

2. For all workouts, take in 4-6 oz of water every 10-20 min. Your goal is to replace most of what you lose in weight, so if you want to get precise, you can figure out what you lose during a standard workout and drink the exact amount you need to replace it. This is a good rule of thumb if you don’t want to go through the trouble. Tip: taking big gulps helps water clear the stomach faster, so if you don’t like that sloshing feeling, chug. Also, don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Stay ahead of dehydration by taking every opportunity to ingest water, even if it’s just a little bit here and there.

3. Get 500 milligrams of sodium with every 16 oz you drink. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, and that puts you at risk for hyponatremia if you hydrate without replacing them. For those of you making your own drinks and gels, 500 milligrams is a little less than the amount in a quarter teaspoon of salt.

4. For workouts and races lasting over an hour (and up to 4 or 5 hours), you need 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. You can find where you fit in that range by dividing your body weight in pounds by 4 to get a minimum hourly carbohydrate requirement, in grams. You can give your body what it needs with a sports drink or a combination of energy gel and water. A little bit of protein, in a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, may help minimize muscle damage during endurance events.

5. For anything lasting much more than 5 hours, the nutrition focus shifts to fat, with a smaller amount of carbohydrate. 

Check back next week for what to eat after a long training workout or endurance event.

Harissa Pomegranate Roasted Chicken with Avocado, Grapefruit & Mint Salad

Those of you that have been reading this blog for the last couple of years know that I tend to share vegan and/or gluten-free recipes, featuring organic, local and nutrient-dense “superfoods” as much as possible. While this is a healthy, earth-friendly and local-business bolstering approach to nourishment, it’s not necessarily affordable or realistic for large swaths of the population.

With that in mind, I am incredibly grateful that I am able to eat the way I do and am passionate about making healthy eating as universally doable as possible. For those who can afford organic and/or local ingredients and can supplement their diets with emerging superfoods (chia seeds, coconut oil, maca powder, etc), the work is in creating recipes that are easy to follow and still taste delicious after weaving in all those extra nutrients and swapping out empty ingredients. For the rest, who still want and ought to have strategies and guidance for feeding themselves and their families without having to sacrifice other basic needs, the job is admittedly a lot tougher. I’m currently working on food education and nutrition workshops for my new studio, Yoga Heights, that will tackle this tough task and will ultimately help me and YHDC co-owner, Jess Pierno, further our mission of offering yoga, pilates and nutrition to create balanced wellness for every body, at every level and every budget.

Two strategies I often suggest for people trying to eat healthy on a budget is to pay attention to the cuts of meat they purchase and to use spices to add bold flavors to basic meals. Apart from my decision and ability to use organic chicken instead of generic, this recipe fits the bill. Chicken thighs are a much more affordable cut than breast meat, especially when you buy them bone-in, skin-on—or better yet, get the whole chicken and butcher it yourself. For health purposes, I’d suggest you skip the skin except for special occasions. Harissa is a North African spice blend featuring a variety of flavors ranging from hot chile to caraway. I picked some up the last time I was in Ethiopia and love using it on meat and fish.

Harissa Sauce_MOARfit

While it takes some investment up front to stock your pantry with spices, oils and special ingredients, it pays off in the long run. Just think of all the ways I’ve already used pomegranate molasses!

This dish is great for a summer dinner party with friends. The cooling Avocado, Grapefruit and Mint salad is a nice complement to the spicy Harissa Pomegranate Roasted Chicken. It’s a feast for the senses—nose, eyes and mouth delight!

Harissa Chicken_MOARfit

Inspired by a recipe I saw in Women’s Health (May 2014). Unfortunately there’s no online link!

Harissa Pomegranate Roasted Chicken with Avocado, Grapefruit & Mint Salad

{makes 4 servings}

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 organic, bone-in chicken thighs (skinless)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tbs pomegranate molasses
  • 1/3 cup harissa
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large grapefruits, sectioned
  • 2 avocados, sliced
  • 1/2 cup gently chopped or torn mint leaves

How to Make It:

  1. Combine oil, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, harissa and salt & pepper in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Place chicken thighs in a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. Cover chicken in harissa-pomegranate sauce, cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (optimally overnight).
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  4. Remove chicken from refrigerator. Bake, covered, for 20-25 min. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 min before serving (seals all the yummy juices inside).
  5. When ready to serve, divide avocados, grapefruit and mint equally between 4 plates. Place one chicken thigh on top of each salad and drizzle with sauce run-off.

I hope you like this one as much as I did! It’s a little spicy, bold and bright. Mmm mmm.


5 Food Fixes & 3 Triggers to Avoid for a Happy Holiday Season!

5 Food Fixes & 3 Triggers to Avoid for a Happy Holiday Season!

Food can be your ally or enemy when it comes to stress. Not only do we often over- or under-consume when we’re feeling stressed, but the actual foods we ingest may have an adverse physiological effect on the levels of feel-good hormones, like serotonin, and anxiety-amplifying hormones, like cortisol, found in our bodies.  So what foods should you seek out or avoid when elements of your personal and/or professional life are wearing you down?

Stress Free, Relax

5 Foods Fixes to Fight Stress:

  1. High-fiber, complex carbs: Good grains like quinoa, oatmeal and farro will soothe your mood without bringing you down.
  2. Foods rich in vitamin B: B-vitamins have been shown to have a calming effect on your mind and body. Go for the gold with foods like beans and lentils, and the ever-tasty avocado.
  3. Foods rich in vitamins A and C, and folate:  These vitamins and minerals help give you more energy and repair cell damage caused by stress. Aim to incorporate kale, red peppers, carrots and other good-mood fruits and vegetables into your diet on a daily basis to ward off anxiety.
  4. Magnesium-rich foods: This mineral helps muscles relax, stimulates production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that eases anxiety and nervousness, and helps you fall asleep. Spinach is your best friend here. Just one cup has 40% of your daily value. Seeds, bananas and low-fat dairy will also do the trick.
  5. Foods full of antioxidants: These powerful, disease-fighting phytochemicals help fight the damage that cortisol does to brain cells and memory, and melting away stress. Blueberries, unsweetened cherries and dark chocolate (70-85% cacao minimum) are all good foods to have on hand for an instant mood boost.

3 Triggers to Avoid:

  1. High-fat foods: Fatty meat, heavy cheeses and dense baked goods can make you feel lethargic and are not the best calories to consume if you want to reduce your stress levels. Food-induced fatigue will not lighten your load and will also hamper your attempts at exercise–which stimulates serotonin production and can counter the effects of anxiety.
  2. Caffeine: While a cup of coffee (or five) may give you a feel-good buzz it can also interfere with proper sleep. Caffeine sits in your system longer than you realize and the withdrawal period when you miss your morning cup can leave you feeling low and lousy. It may take a while to wean yourself off of the jet fuel, but ultimately you’ll feel better with less peaks and valleys if you can manage to cut back.
  3. Refined sugar: Carbs can be a mood-booster, but refined sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means it enters and leaves the bloodstream super-fast. Parents know that after every good sugar high there is always a “crash.”

5 Rules for MOAR Mindful Eating

qode interactive strata

Did you know that Americans spend $40 million annually on weight loss? What I’m about to tell you might not be the best for my business, but it will likely save you some serious cash on specialty groceries, packaged cleanses, personal trainers and the like–especially at this time of year. With New Years resolutions just around the corner your golden ticket to better health and well-being might be as simple as harnessing tools you already have within you to practice mindfulness while you munch.

Mindfulness is common speak for yogis worldwide. It is a practice derived from Buddhism and seen as a critical part of the tradition’s Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. Mindfulness can be achieved through proper meditation, but can also be cultivated through daily efforts to bring awareness into all different aspects of our lives. It takes work–constant, and concerted effort–but can make a world of difference for your stress levels, concentration, productivity and even your relationships with friends, family and partners. The aspect I’ll focus on here, however, is how it can positively impact your relationship with food and ultimately lead to better nutrition and feeling comfortable with your body in both its internal and external manifestations.

Being more aware of your eating habits and resetting your relationship with food is a challenging process, but one that can be made easier by following my 5 Rules for MOAR Mindful Eating:

Five Fingers GIF
  1. Sit down. Try to take a break from being the efficient machine you are and avoid the urge to multitask while you’re eating. Eating should get the same dedicated attention that composing an email or making a phone call does. By allowing your mind to focus on enjoying your food, you’ll be ready to realize and respond to the signals from your tummy when your hunger is gone.
  2. Screen(s) off. It’s now well-known that there’s a proven connection between screen time and type 2 diabetes in children. Kids aren’t the only casualties. Let’s face it, we’re (almost) all addicted to our cell phones, tablets and computers (a.k.a. screens). Who out there spends at least 6 hours of their day looking at a screen? I’d venture to say at least 75% of my readers do. Now answer me this, who out there looks at a screen while eating at least one meal a day? The vast majority of us–and I’m guilty as charged–check emails, respond to texts and/or watch TV while we munch. Turning your screen off prevents you from getting distracted as to why you’re eating and, as I already mentioned, helps you recognize satiety. A mindful eater eats when they’re hungry rather than when they’re bored, sad, stressed, or celebrating. This is a lot easier said than done so set yourself up for success in cultivating food and full awareness by eliminating distractions.
  3. Slow down. How many times have you waited 45 minutes for a table at a restaurant, 30 minutes for your food to arrive, and devoured your entire meal in under 10? In our culture of go go go, we rarely give the ritual of eating its due attention. Proper digestion begins in the mouth. Slow it down and allow your body to focus its energy on the act of eating and start things off right by chewing your food. I’m not preaching that we need to go so far as to chew each bite 40 times–though there is a fair amount of scientific evidence to suggest the efficacy of this–but at the very least we know that it takes 15-20 minutes for food to register in your brain chemistry (with the help of hormones like ghrelin and leptin) and trigger satiety. TIP: try chopsticks or using your non-dominant hand.
  4. Savor flavor. Slowing down allows you to be aware of what you’re eating. If you focus on your food you’ll begin to notice the color, taste, smell and texture of what you’re consuming, as well as think about the effort you or someone else put into making it. This is an opportunity for gratitude that we all too often miss. It is also a great way to start savoring your food. As you become more mindful of what you’re munching on, your food will taste better and it might just encourage you to cook more which is this nutrition coach’s #1 strategy for long-term success in better eating habits for you and your family.
  5. Finally, Sink in. Stay put after you finish your meal. This will (a) give your body the time it needs to figure out whether or not you’re full; and (b), if you aren’t rushing off to the next thing, you’re far less likely to experience stomach upset which can be triggered by the release of cortisol, a powerful stress hormone. For those of you who suffer from IBS or other tummy disorders, simply building in some down-time after you eat could mean a significant decrease in symptoms.

I’d love to hear your tips for more mindful eating. Please share your ideas in the “Leave a Reply” field below, or shoot me an email at

Tri-Color Potato Leek Soup (V)

Earlier this week I shared a hearty and healthy winter soup recipe. If you liked that one, I’m pretty sure you’ll dig this one too. Potatoes are a low-calorie carb, high in fiber and fat-free. According to the USDA, we should be getting 45-65% of our total calorie intake from carbs. On a 2,000-calorie diet that translates to about 225 to 325g of the often-demonized nutrient per day. For the carbophobes out there, keep in mind that carbohydrates act as your primary source of energy–essential for those of us leading an active lifestyle. A 1 cup serving of the potatoes used in this recipe contains 26g of carbs and 2g of fiber. Fiber is a powerful tool for weight control as it’s your best friend when it comes to staying full and satiated.  For my ladies out there, adult women need around 25g of fiber a day. Our male counterparts need to up the ante to around 35g of fiber a day.

The real superstars in this recipe, however, are leeks. One cup of raw leeks contains 52.2% of your daily value for vitamin K, 29.6% for vitamin A, 21.5% for manganese, 17.8% for vitamin C, 14.2% for folate, 10.5% for vitamin B6, and 10.3% for iron. Talk about a secret weapon!

Knowing how good this soup is for you, you’ll feel even better when you realize it actually tastes good too. Pair it with a hunk of my Easy Multigrain Bread and voilà, lunch is served!

Tri-Color Potato Leek Soup


What You’ll Need:

  • 6 cups reduced-sodium vegetable stock
  • 3 leeks, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 14-16 small tri-color potatoes, cubed
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • salt and pepper, to taste


How to Make It:

  1. Heat oil in a large (5-6 qt) saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, shallots and leeks, sautéing 5-7 min or until tender and translucent.
  2. Add garlic, thyme, oregano, cayenne and salt and pepper, cooking for another 2-3 min.
  3. Add tri-color potatoes, making sure to coat them in the spices and onion, shallot, leek mixture.
  4. Add vegetable stock, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 15 min. The potatoes should be easy to pierce and pick up with a fork.
  5. Finally, using a hand blender if you have one, purée the mixture in your saucepan until smooth. (If you don’t have a hand blender a standing blender does the trick).
  6. Adjust your seasoning for spice and saltiness. Serve hot and enjoy!

Note: if you aren’t vegan or dairy-free, I highly recommend adding a tablespoon or two of your favorite shredded cheese. I have a dairy sensitivity but can handle goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, so I added some grated manchego–yum!

Quinoa Black Bean Zucchini “Burgers”

I love a juicy burger as much as the next gal but let’s face it, scarfing a quarter pounder with cheese doesn’t exactly put you on the healthy train. I am not going to pretend that my vegetarian “burgers” made from quinoa, black beans, and zucchini will be as finger-licking good as your typical beef or bison burger, but they are yummy and darn good for you!

Quinoa is a whole grain and complete protein (meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids). It’s also a great source of fiber, iron, and magnesium.  As mentioned in an earlier post on my 3-Alarm Turkey Chili, beans are a full of fiber and phytonutrients—naturally occurring chemical compounds found only in plants that are proven to have important disease fighting and antioxidant properties. And zucchini? Well it’s an excellent source of vitamin A, beta carotene, and folate.

These patties are vegetarian and can be made gluten-free as well. Eat them on their lonesome, slap them on a salad, or top them with a poached egg for a protein-packed post-workout meal. Enjoy!


What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
  • 1 can black beans, drained, rinsed and mashed
  • ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

How to Make It:

  1. Bring 2 cups water and 1 cup quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed (about 10-15 min). Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and spread out to cool for about 15 min.
  2. Add zucchini, black beans, eggs, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, spices, and salt and pepper to the quinoa. Use your hands to thoroughly combine all ingredients and squeeze the mixture to bring it together.
  3. Shape eight patties from your mixture. Place them on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 min.
  4. Heat 2 tsp olive oil on a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the patties, reduce heat to medium, and cook until golden brown (3-4 min per side).