March 12, 2012

Not Without My Wine, Thank You Very Much

If you look at most health or weight-loss sites, one of the first thing they tell you to do is cut out all alcohol. Hmmm. To that I have to say, "thanks,, thanks". I am firm believer in balance, and I think that there is no benefit to being extreme or depriving yourself of, well, a glass of sanity.

That said, if you're looking to stay in shape and live a healthy life, 3 sugar-laden cosmopolitans 3 times a week will really not do you any favors. Besides the sugar and calories, alcohol does slow your recovery from workouts and leaves you dehydrated which is bad for your skin and your overall well-being.

Here are a few tips, then, for including alcohol in your healthy lifestyle. If one too many sips leaves you dancing like a maniac and burning calories without even realizing it - all the better!

1. Ideally, stick to red wine. With the fewest number of calories and the highest potential benefits (anti-oxidants and heart-healthy resveratrol), red wine is the #1 healthies alcoholic drink. If it was good enough for Zeus, it's good enough for me!

2. Beware of Mixers and Chasers. Unless you're a true baller (read: freak of nature) and can drink vodka, tequila, or rum out of a cup straight-up, you are going to need a mixer or a chaser. Avoid margarita mixes, syrups, and colas. Instead, choose to have your poison of choice mixed with club soda and sprinkled with a dash of lime. Delicious, healthy(er), clean. Tequila shots with lime as a chaser are also great since they have limited liquid and limited sugar. I also happen to think they're incredible sexy.. but maybe that's just me.

3. Alternate with Water. This keeps you from getting dehydrated which means that you won't be hungover and you are more likely to be able to get a good workout in the next day.

4. Make it Count. One of the biggest mistakes people make with alcohol and health is not being able to practice moderation. The truth is that alcohol has calories and those calories can add up quickly. In my opinion, two drinks on a night where I'm going out to a bar or a club is much more enjoyable than a beer with my dinner two nights in a row. If the opposite is true for you that's fine, but be conscious of how much you're drinking and how much you're enjoying the experience. Just because you have the option to drink, doesn't mean you have to!

5. Avoid Popular Matching Foods. If friends are going out for pizza and beer, there is no shame in having a salad before you go and just enjoying the beer with friends. Bar food is so often fried, greasy, and unhealthy that it is much worse for you than the alcohol is. Yes, they're a good and tasty combination, but to feel guilt-free about your indulgence you can take a preemptive approach and fill up on healthy snacks before.

6. Move it! If you do make the choice to drink, enjoy the experience. Get up and dance, go mingle around the room, or create some sort of activity. If possible, avoid just sitting, drinking, and going to bed. Moving around helps the alcohol metabolize faster and will make a huge difference in how you feel the morning after.

Yet again, it comes down to balance and education. Don't cut alcohol out of your life completely, but do your research and know how to make the best decisions for you, your body, your workout plan, your health, and your happiness.

What's your favorite way to enjoy a drink guilt-free?



March 2, 2012

Short and Kinda Slow: A Running Guide

After just one season of cross-country in highschool (as a way to get out of PE with no experience in athletics or sports), I made a promise to my body that it would no longer have to hear the words "12-mile-run". I know that some people live for long runs, and to them I say "Kudos and Enjoy!". For us humans, however, it's just not going to happen.

I reckon I'm in pretty good shape, and I feel great after a 3-5 mile run. I suppose if I had more time to train I could work my way up, but I don't. And, to be honest, I would probably rather spend that time in a BodyPump class or watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. with a big bowl of berries and some dark chocolate.

Moreover, I don't think that you have to run miles in the double digits to call yourself a "runner". 3 miles a few times a week is more than enough justification to buy those cool shoes you wanted or to tell your friends about the run you went on that felt so amazing. And you know what else? Even a slow, short jog has infinite benefits for your heart health and overall metabolism. Just do something.

The trap, though, its that if you're running short distances, preparation and fuel needs are slightly different. There's really no need to carbo-load with 3 bowls of pasta the night before, and a jug of Gatorade to replenish lost electrolyties might be a bit unnecessary. I recommend a banana for pre-run fuel and a bowl of cereal with regular or coconut milk as as after-run snack. This has the right amount of sugars, carbs, protein, and potassium without any extras.

If you choose the right healthy fuel foods and don't add to your regular calorie intake, a short run can do wonders for a weight-loss goal. If you burn 100 calories a mile, you need 35 miles to lose a pound. That's only 12 3-mile runs! A longer run might make you much hungrier and you might find yourself eating more calories than normal, slowing down weight loss. Yes, I know, it sounds like an excuse for the short-and-slow running club, but it's pure math!

No one ever said that you can't get a killer workout from a run under 10 miles, anyway. Here are my tips for getting the best out of each mile:

1. Warm-up: Jogging or doing jumping jacks for about 5 minutes and then stretching for another 5 before your run will help your have maximum energy for your run. If your body is warm you'll be able to go faster and move more efficiently without getting sore muscles or cramps. Make sure to stretch after, as well.

2. Intervals: Use the lack of distance to work on speed. This can help raise your heart-rate and it's been repeatedly proven that interval workouts are more effective at beating fat than long, steady workouts. I recommend a 1 minute sprint, 2 minute jog pace.

3. Switch Up Locations: I find that I run faster and with more excitement when I'm running somewhere I've never been (or at least not in a while). Running the same route over and over can get boring and exhausting. You're much more likely to get a good workout if you're inspired to go faster to see what's around the next corner.

4. Add Weight: This can be during your run or after. First of all, if you can manage to run a few miles holding 3 or 5 lb. weights in each hand, power to you. Go for it. It'll tone your arms and help your posture. However, if this sounds dreadful, just do some basic weight-lifting, sit-ups, and push-ups after your run. It can be for as little at 5-10 minutes, but will help improve your overall fitness and make your next runs even easier.

5. Increase Frequency: Rather than running 12 miles one day and feeling out of commission for a week, break it up into smaller runs. Make a mileage goal for the week (say 12-15) and if you're feeling tired one day, just do 2 miles that day and a longer one the next. Running more frequently keeps your metablism higher, as well.

Just have fun with it! Since quitting cross-country, I still really enjoy running when I can and it feels great when I get some good miles in (meaning anything over 4). I know that I will likely never do a marathon, and I'm ok with that. I'm in good shape, I have a healthy heart, and I like a sweaty, rockin' work out as much as the next guy, but when it comes to running I like short distances at a kinda slow pace, and that's ok!

How do you get a good workout from a short run?