Quick and Healthy…AND Cheap!

So, when I’m skipping around the internet for recipes, or fussing in my kitchen trying to come up with something tasty, there are a few prerequisites. It has to be healthy, of course…and even though that’s open to wide interpretation, by “healthy” I mean generally 6 or less whole food ingredients, and something that nourishes and strengthens your body in the long term, not just over the next three hours. And, for this particular blog, it needs to be quick; I look for stuff that can at least be prepared ahead of time, so when you’re ready to walk out the door, you have something in your belly that constitutes more than a cup of coffee or a handful of potato chips.

But there’s a third, sort of bonus prerequisite that sometimes factors in, and that is cost. High quality organic ingredients can be a little more expensive, so when I find something that isn’t, I get pretty excited. Of course, this week’s post isn’t about any sort of miracle food; in fact, it’s been a staple in a lot of households for a long time. But it’s one of those meals that can be prepared at the beginning of the week for dinner and end up feeding you happily for the next three days. How’s that for bang for your buck?

What I’m talking about are beans and rice, with just enough pizazz to keep you from yawning yourself to sleep over your dinner (or lunch or…) A little spin on the classic old favorite, that will fill you up and last forever. And this recipe uses black beans, which rock a high protein and fiber content, which helps move food through your digestive tract quickly and efficiently. Plus, black beans help regulate blood sugar, which helps with cravings.

A few other happy bonuses: the soluble fiber in black beans helps lower cholesterol, which leads to a lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks; they also contain flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. There’s also a healthy dose of vitamin B6, or folate, which helps support nervous system health.

Here’s another little tip as you’re navigating the potential wilderness of healthy eating: write a list of 10 quick healthy meals, and post it on your fridge. Try to keep the ingredients for at least 5 of those in your kitchen as often as possible. Then, when you get home late, or when mealtimes sneak up on you, you will be more likely and more prepared to have a healthy meal rather than, say, order a large pizza. It helps.

One last point: you don’t have to stick to this ingredient list…you can throw whatever you like in, or, more appropriately, whatever you have on hand.

Healthy Black Beans and Rice

1/4 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
1 T. olive or coconut oil
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 can prganic black beans
1/2 t. curry powder
1/2 t. cumin
1/4 t. chili powder
1/4 t. paprika
2 c. cooked brown rice (you can substitute any grain, really)

–Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the onion and garlic.
–Over the next few minutes, add the carrot, peppers, and finally the beans, heating through.
–Add to rice/grains and serve.
–You can get creative, really, adding whatever condiments you like such as soy sauce, tamari, or tahini to taste.

*Recipe courtesy of keepyourdietreal.com


For the Last Minute…

I know a while ago I promised more ideas for my vegetarian and vegan friends; I’ve been trying to include recipes and options that are friendly to both carnivores and herbivores alike.  The truth is, a lot of folks who spend time recommending such things, recommend a plant-based diet as the answer to reducing the collateral damage we’ve done to our bodies over years of eating the “Standard American Diet” (or, appropriately enough, the SAD).

My personal opinion is that it is all, indeed, very personal.  What works for me might not work for you.  What I find delicious and nourishing might make you feel like caca.  So, I try to cover the gamut; a smoothie here, a breakfast there…maybe an energy bar to keep it real.

Speaking of which, I found in my cyber-travels a great recipe that is both quick and vegan.  Not just quick to eat, but quick to make and simple to boot.  The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, and that’s including the freezer time.

Last-Minute Energy Bars

1 c. rolled oats
1 c. brown rice crisp cereal
1/4 to 1/2 c. protein powder
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. brown rice syrup
1/2 c. sunflower seed butter
2 t. vanilla extract
1/3 c. dark chocolate chips

–Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
–Mix the brown rice syrup and seed butter together in a medium bowl. Heat 45 seconds in the microwave and then add the vanilla.
–Add the wet mixture to the dry, and mix well. You might have to knead it.
–Using slightly wet fingers, press the mixture into a pan and roll out smooth. (You might want to line the pan with parchment paper.)
–Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and spread in a thin layer over the top.
–Freeze for 10 minutes, then cut into bars and store.

A few notes: You should look for a really mild protein powder to use; some of the powders can be really chalky, and that will show up in the flavor if you aren’t careful. Try some of the rice protein powders; they seem to have a less powerful flavor than whey or soy.

You can also use other nut butters if you choose; just be sure they are somewhat drippy. If they are of a more solid consistency, you will have to use more syrup, which is fine, too.

Honey can be used in place of the brown rice syrup; I actually used this because I didn’t have any brown rice syrup on hand. You could try agave nectar or maple syrup, but they might not bind as well.

You can also sprinkle sesame seeds or chia seeds on top before freezing…your choice!


Liquid Protein

So, I really think I have tried almost every protein drink, bar, gel and goo out there in my quest for the perfect fuel; as I learn more about the benefit of whole food I am less eager to fuel my body with these options, but when I am really in a pinch or grabbing something from a convenience store when I am on the go, they are good for a quick fix to tide me over for a few hours.  So I’d like to discuss a few of the options out there…

…of which there are about a jazillion. Literally. So for my purposes today, I am only going to cover three of the more common protein shakes you will find, as well as everybody’s favorite: chocolate milk. Because, let’s face the facts, folks; they can try as hard as they want to make protein drinks taste like chocolate, but the general effect is like looking for fireworks and getting something more like sparklers.

As I waded through the test subjects, there are a few things I found to be fairly common ground for all of them that I’ll go into here. First, the serving sizes are all about the same, about 8-12 ounces. Second, they have a lot of ingredients in common and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For example, they all (including the organic chocolate milk) contain carrageenan. Why is this important, you ask? Well, even thought it has been deemed “safe” by the FDA for use in foods as a thickening agent, it can lead to gastrointestinal disorders. It tends to coat the inside of your stomach like honey, which can present a digestive challenge. Some folks may not react well to it. Not to mention that it is also used in aircraft de-icers (?!); it is used to thicken the fluid in order to help it adhere to the aircraft surfaces.

These types of pre-made shakes also tend to have a LOT of ingredients that are phonetically challenging; lots of -ides and -ates that make me a little nervous. But it is possible to find some with less; this is actually one of the areas where chocolate milk comes out ahead because the organic varieties really have very little in them.

But I am digressing slightly. Let’s meet the contenders:

1) Gatorade Protein Recovery-G Series Recover 03: Gatorade has branched out a little from their standard electrolyte drinks trying to break into this “recovery” market, as people start to realize the importance of replacing not just their electrolytes but also their protein and glycogen stores. And while I am not sure how I feel about this, I decided to give it a shot.

So, how does it stack up? In a serving just over 16 ounces, you get 270 calories, 20 grams of protein, and 45 grams of carbohydrates. For your buck, you get a little less protein bang. But Gatorade did use whey protein, which is optimal for muscle recovery. I found that I didn’t get any gassiness or bloating from this one, which is sometimes problematic for me when I drink these things, and which may be a problem for those with lactose sensitivities since this product does include milk protein concentrate. The taste is so-so, about what you’d expect from store-bought shakes. If you make your own pretty regularly, don’t expect this to come close.

2) Myoplex and Myoplex Lite: EAS manufactures these gluten-free options for protein fulfillment and recovery, and I have to say, they are among my go-to drinks when I am looking for quick protein. I like to keep a bunch at work for after my workout or for a mid-morning snack. I usually opt for the lite version (which is a little out of character for me, but they are smaller servings and also a bit cheaper).

Myoplex Original comes in 17 ounce servings and weighs in at 300 calories; you get 42 grams of protein and only 7 grams of fat; the lite version is only 11 ounces and you get 20 grams of protein and only 170 calories. I don’t usually sweat the calories; I mean, I’m not super worried about what I’m taking in there. I know that with either one, I am getting good protein for muscle recovery without a lot of sugar (4 grams in the lite and only 1 gram in the original). And both contain a variety of B vitamins and trace minerals that are important for your daily health (although not a substitute for a solid multivitamin).

The Myoplex shakes use soy proteins, which don’t necessarily come up on everyone’s list of favorites. There are a lot of discrepancies in the conversations surrounding soy protein, like should you opt for it before or after working out? Or is it inferior to whey protein? Is it really a “girl’s protein” as some men’s magazines have claimed? Well, after reading through a bunch of the internet articles about it and trying both soy and whey in addition to others, the conclusion I have come to is that it is–like so many other diet and supplement choices–highly personal. What works for me might give you gas or make you feel, well, icky. I know that isn’t exactly scientific, but I really feel that it is hard to make a solid recommendation on what works “best” for everyone.

3) Muscle Milk: So, Muscle Milk is pretty common; I mean, as convenience stores make the effort to appeal to more health-conscious customers, this tends to be what shows up in their coolers. What’s inside? If you are looking at the 11 ounce container, you get about 210-240 calories, depending on the flavor, with about 25 grams of protein. They use milk protein concentrates and whey protein (which absorbs quickly), plus you get lots of trace minerals and B vitamins. What you don’t get is lactose or gluten: bonus!

The down side? I really don’t think the taste is anything to write home about; it’s a bit chalky and even when I’m drinking the chocolate (which is usually my standby flavor for protein drinks), I just can’t shake the sensation of my mouth being coated with something odd.

4) Chocolate Milk: I saved the best for last. I gotta say, even though it seems a bit sinful, chocolate milk might be your best option, especially if taste is a big factor for you (and really, when is it not?). There are a bunch of perks: there is a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ration, which enhances glycogen replacement after exercise, and more potassium than Gatorade Recovery. It also contains casein, which absorbed slowly, which in turn sustains amino acids in your circulation for hours after you consume it. And, of course, calcium.

If, for example, you were to pick up an 8 ounce container of Horizon Organic lowfat chocolate milk, you would find that it has 11 grams of protein and only 2.5 grams of fat; plus you can find it with DHA omega-3, which is awesome. The other bonus is that it is usually a lot cheaper than some of the specifically-marketed “recovery” drinks.

The bummer here is that if you are lactose-intolerant, this is probably not going to work out so well for you, depending on the severity of your body’s reaction to lactose. Also, most of the studies done on the efficacy of chocolate milk as a recovery aid were done on high-end endurance athletes. That being said, I think most derby practices and bouts qualify as endurance events.

I know this was a little wordy, but I also know how confusing it can be when you are staring down a shelf full of options and have no idea where to start. I hope this helps a little. Also, bear in mind that it might take you trying a few products to find what is going to work best for you, and that it might change over time; I find that some days downing a protein shake just doesn’t work for me and my digestion.

Until next time…

Eat, Poopsie!

But not just anything.  That is to say, when you’re done ripping around the track and burning calories, don’t just reach for a Snickers bar.  Studies show that ingesting even a small amount of protein right after finishing a workout (within 10-15 minutes) can deliver a whole host of benefits; even if you are planning on eating a larger, more substantial meal once you get home, you should try to nosh on something before you jump in the car.

What’s the big deal, you ask?  Well, test subjects who ate even 1-2 grams of leucine (think whey protein, which is generally a better source for post-workout purposes) showed bigger muscle gains and lost more fat than subjects who ate nothing at all.  Oddly enough, you can actually lose muscle mass if you eat nothing after your workouts, as opposed to taking in something small in the form of a supplement or tiny snack.

See, high-intensity exercise (jamming?  hel-LO…) is considered a form of stress, and stress releases cortisol into your bloodstream.  And cortisol, unfortunately, triggers muscle breakdown.  No bueno.  BUT, good news is that even small amounts of protein can trigger new protein synthesis and muscle recovery.  There are some other advantages as well.  Protein supplements after exercise can help accelerate the loss of visceral fat (the dangerous stuff), which, aside from making that tight-fitting jersey look like hell, accumulates around your organs and ups your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The other cool side-effect of eating a small snack post-workout is that you will maintain a higher resting metabolic rate, which essentially means that you continue to burn off calories while you’re doing nothing. Or at least thinking about something else besides sweating your ass off. Sweet.

Eating a little bit right after exercise also tends to take the edge off your hunger, regulating your blood sugar a little and giving your body time to decide just how hungry it is…before you march into the nearest convenience store and drop $20 on junk food to satisfy whatever cravings you think you have.

So how can you take advantage of all this awesomeness? Well, think small-ish…between 100-150 calories, especially if you are planning on eating something more substantial in the next 30-45 minutes. So, a hard-boiled egg, a few handfuls of peanuts, cashews, etc, or maybe a little Greek yogurt (although you may not want to keep that in your skate bag); Oikos offers smaller-sized options than their regular yogurt servings, which could be a good choice. I personally like a few handfuls of trail mix and a couple sticks of part-skim mozzarella string cheese; I usually try to stay away from beef-jerky unless it is homemade, because of the large amounts of preservatives that are contained in store-bought jerky.

There is also a wide variety of protein recovery drinks out there, but I’m going to refrain from talking about those here, since I’d like to give them their own post.

So, it might take a little pre-planning…but having something on hand to grab out of your skate bag or backpack while you’re taking off your gear or discussing the finer points of your scrimmage might help to keep you out of the potato chip trough, and give you a little more energy for the next go-round.

Go get better, faster, stronger!