Strong Abs, Better Running

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Some people hate doing abdominal workouts – I love them! To me, ab workouts are almost as addicting as running. Although many of you may be shocked at my love for belly burn, as a runner, this view is not uncommon.

Strong abdominals go hand-in-hand with strong running. Abdominal muscles support the torso and stabilize the pelvis while you run. Runners with weak abs tend to tire quickly. Also, they tend to have a less stable pelvis which can lead to lower back pain and hamstring injuries. Runners with strong abs tend to have better posture, a more stable gait, and have fewer lower back problems. Furthermore, the stronger your abs are and the more they can endure, the better you will run.

On the flipside, running also help strengthen and flatten your abs. Think about it, have you ever seen an experienced runner with a large midsection? Running burns more calories/fat, including that which is stored in the belly. Plus, to keep our balance while running, our ab muscles must stay contracted – in a constant state of flexing.

However, don’t rely on running alone for flat abs. Women Fitness reports that running works your hip flexors and your lower back more than your abs. If you don’t stretch these areas, you could develop an imbalance known as excessive anterior pelvic tilt – a fancy way of saying runner’s pouch, which makes your stomach protrude and look much bigger than it is.

Obviously, not all runners will have six-pack abs. Besides, it is harder for women to achieve the six-pack goal than men because we have more body fat. Still, female runners who strengthen their abs (and hence, their core) can expect to see improvement in running, not to mention a tighter tummy.

No need to rely on crunches alone for your ab routine. Try to incorporate a mix of ab exercises that work all abdominals – obliques, upper, lower, etc. For a great ab workout sans the typical crunch, try Shape magazine’s 4-Week Ab Makeover, a workout that utilizes pilates to build ab muscles.

Even if you’ve hated ab workouts in the past, I encourage you to give them another try, especially if you’re a runner. You may not love them at first, but when you start seeing results – look out!

Happy Running!

Headin’ Up To San Francisco

In less than 48 hours, I will be in beautiful San Francisco. As you may recall, I was in San Fran briefly last week, as a stopover on my way to Sacramento. I was there so briefly that the only place I actually set foot in was the airport, otherwise I was in a car.

But on this trip, I will be spending four lovely days in San Francisco. Although I will be quite busy with writing assignments, I am hoping that I actually see some of the sites around the city, as well as the trendy restaurants. Maybe I’ll even meet up with a few blogger friends!!

Aside from work and site-seeing, I am also hoping to go for a few runs – naturally. It is true that before I head out on a trip I research my destination like CRAZY – just ask my husband. I almost become obsessed with finding the coolest restaurants, shopping, sites, etc. But I also love to plan out my runs! I go to great lengths to map out routes, plan scheduled runs for my light work days, etc. Knowing that I am keeping to my scheduled runs gives me a sense of familiarity in a new place and helps to keep some kind of calm in my, otherwise, crazy schedule.

And I do mean crazy schedule! San Francisco is just the first leg of my trip. From there, I will head to Napa for a few days, then onto Vancouver until November 3. So, when everything is over, I will have been away from home for 12 days. My stomach hurts just thinking about being gone for that long – especially since Scott and the kids will NOT be coming with me. Oh the things we do for work!

Thank goodness for iPhone Facetime!

How Running is Like Blogging

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This time of year is my busiest season for writing and other projects. And, it is at this time each year where I contemplate sacrificing some of the things I love – like running and blogging – in order to make more time for work. Last year, I did actually take a hiatus from blogging for 1-2 months in order to spend time working on more lucrative projects. As for running, although I’ve never stopped running for work-related reasons, I took a planned hiatus from running for 2-3 weeks after I had both of my children.

When you really think about it, blogging is a lot like running. In many ways, at least for me, the two go hand-in-hand, with running as an impetus for blogging and vice versa. Plus, giving up blogging or running, even for a short amount of time, is difficult for someone who does it every day. But although the “giving up” part was difficult, the coming back after the time off was even more difficult than I imagined.

Let’s take a look at the other similarities between running and blogging:

6 Ways Running is Like Blogging

  1. Love/hate relationship: I truly have a love/hate relationship with running and blogging. I love to run, just as I love to write. But I hate that both have me so entranced that they are hard to give up cold turkey. Both are definitely hard habits to break.
  2. Practice makes perfect: Although blogging is not a sport – unless you consider taking hits from women’s magazines a sport – like running, your blogging/writing skills will typically improve the more you engage in that activity, be it running or writing. Running and blogging also take practice and dedication to get to the level that you want to be. Furthermore, many experienced bloggers and runners will keep to a set schedule in order to become more consistent in their practice and to gauge their progress.
  3. Varying Levels: Like runners, bloggers can be considered anything from novice to experienced, or from casual to professional. Some runners run for fun, some bloggers blog for fun. On the flipside, some runners run professionally, to earn money, prestige or just to beat a previous personal record. Bloggers are the same way in that many experienced bloggers write because of the money it earns them or with the intent of receiving some sort of recognition in the blogging world.
  4. Socialization: Blogging and running can be solo or social activities. You can write for the masses but never read or respond to comments or you can engage in online communities, conferences, and more. Similarly, you can run by yourself to your heart’s content or you can join a group of runners for weekly workouts.
  5. Outlet for feelings and ambitions: Running and blogging can be used to help alleviate stress, tension, anxiety, make you feel empowered, or simply help you achieve a purpose – whether it’s to run a 5K or to write your first novel.
  6. The Good and the Bad: Runners and bloggers have good days and bad days. On a bad day, a blogger may post just to get something posted, while runners will force themselves just to finish a few miles. But on good days – both runners and bloggers can be on fire – writing strong content or achieving that runner’s high.

Now, if I could just find a way to run and blog at the same time….

Touring California Walnut Country

I recently had the great pleasure of touring California’s walnut county on behalf of the California Walnut Commission. The tour was quite an adventure that spanned two days – two days of learning about walnut harvesting and processing, as well as the many great benefits that walnuts hold.

My adventure started at the beautiful Citizen Hotel in downtown Sacramento where I joined a group of 20-25 other journalists and walnut experts for an elegant dinner. Prior to dinner, we watched cookbook author Mollie Katzen and Chef Michael Tuohy from Grange restaurant whip up some very easy pesto.

We all proceeded to get our hands a little dirty making Chef Tuohy’s own version of white walnut pesto. This was, by far, the best pesto I have ever tasted and not just because I made it. I am not a huge fan of pine nuts or basil in pesto, which are standard ingredients for many restaurant pestos. But Chef Tuohy’s white pesto was made with a base of cheddar, olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and, best of all, ground walnuts! Again – the best pesto I have every tasted! Don’t worry, I do plan on posting the recipe in a few days!

Our cooking demo was followed by a three-course dinner, with walnuts playing a starring role. We also were very fortunate to hear award-winning researcher and author Dr. Brian Wansink discuss some of the pitfalls to American eating, much of which was discussed in his book, Mindless Eating.

The next morning, we were treated to a walnut-studded breakfast at Old Soul Co. in Sacramento, which included walnut scones, banana walnut sweet bread, and even spinach and goat cheese quiche with walnuts.

After breakfast, we headed to the main event – a tour of the walnut trees at Fedora Farms in Meridian, CA. Here we learned about the varieties of walnuts, how they are shaken from the tree and collected, and how they are hulled and dried before being sent to the processing plant. What I was impressed by most about Fedora Farms was how much time and care they put into harvesting quality walnuts – it really is a great source of pride for the Fedora family and for walnut growers in general. Like Fedora Farms, most walnut farms/orchards are experiencing a fantastic harvest this year. According to the California Walnut Board, California will produce a record harvest in 2010, estimated at 17% larger than that seen in 2009.

Lunch was a gourmet meal underneath the walnut trees provided by Chef Patrick Mulvaney, owner of Culinary Specialists Catering. Chef Mulvaney prepared a first-class lunch for our tour, right in the middle of the walnut orchard – very classy! Oh, and did I mention the menu included 4 uses for walnuts, including the chocolate pudding!

After lunch, we headed to Yuba City to visit the Sacramento Valley Walnut Growers, where they process, package, and distribute the walnut grown in the area. What surprised me most about the processing and packaging of the walnuts was how many steps are in the quality control process – I counted at least four but I’m sure there were more!

For dinner, we headed back to downtown Sacramento to The Kitchen Restaurant, touted as one of “the most entertaining and distinctive dining destinations in Sacramento.” This meal and whole experience truly lived up to the hype. Not only was the atmosphere like no other that I had experienced (when do you ever get to go into the kitchen of a restaurant and just hang out?) but the food was unbelievable! Granted, I did not eat all of the 6 courses because they included seafood and beef, but the presentations were extremely entertaining and amazing looking!

Aside from the highly interactive dinner preparations, I was really impressed with the fact that each dish could be, and was in my case, tailored to fit each guest’s likes/dislikes. Don’t care for frog legs? No problem! They will just replace them with tender breaded chicken made to look like frog legs – so  you don’t feel completely left out! Furthermore, as a testament to the Chef’s creative genius, 5 of the 6 courses included walnuts. After my 5-hour culinary experience, I was quite full and ready to fall into a deep, walnut-induced food coma.

Overall, the California Walnut Harvest gave me a new perspective about the growth, harvesting, and processing of walnuts. It’s not every day that I get to see a food that I love go from the tree to the table. And, although I have written about the many health benefits of walnuts before, this tour reinforced how healthy these little nuts are and how incorporating them into any meal is possible and easy.

If you don’t know by now, walnuts are one of the best, if not the best, nuts in regard to nutritional value. Don’t believe me? Check out the California Walnut Commission to see the full details!

Trots to Chafing: How to Cope with Running Ailments

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Repetitive strenuous exercise can cause our bodies to retaliate in very unladylike ways. It’s true that strenuous exercise, including running, may lead to injury, but it can also cause a host of other minor health issues, that can sometimes stop you dead in your tracks. Here are just a few of the little problems runners face and how to prevent them.

Runner’s Trots: This is something that many runners experience at some point in time; however, you may never hear about it in regular conversations, especially among women. Why? Because it has to do with something that no one likes to discuss (except for mothers of newborns), diarrhea! Runner’s trots is essentially the uncontrollable urge (and then proceeding to do so) to go “number 2”. Yes, I admit, this happens to the best of runners, but there are a few ways to decrease your chances of developing this bowel spasm. Make sure you are well-hydrated before a long run, because dehydration has been known to irritate the problem. Also, if you’re prone to the trots, avoid heavy meals, fibrous foods, fruit, caffeine, sugary foods, and dairy before your run. They can all irritate the GI track and leave you searching for a port-o-potty mid-run.

Side Stitches: That sharp pain you feel in your abdominal area, just under your ribs, is the unmistakable side stitch! Although most often experienced in novice runners, even seasoned runners get stitches every now and again. According to Runner’s World, side stitches are typically caused by cramping of the diaphragm. To stop the stitch, you can either walk until the pain goes away or press your fingers into the stitch, then inhale/exhale forcefully, while continuing to run. I have done this MANY times and, more often than not, it works! To avoid stitches, remember to breath deeply from your stomach during your run and avoid heavy drinking/eating 30 minutes prior to your run.

Blisters: I’ve had my share of blisters over the years and they always seem to pop up (no pun intended) when I least expect them. Blisters are essentially trapped water in between your skin, caused by the friction of your feet rubbing against your socks/shoes. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that they can be painful, but they are not a reason to stop running. For most blisters, you can cover them with a large band-aid, blister plaster, moleskin, or even surgical tape. Also, this would be a good time to check your socks and shoes to see if it’s time for a new pair.

Chafing: Chafing, when the skin becomes red and irritated, happens when our clothes don’t fit properly, causing the clothes to rub the skin over and over – and not in a good way. Sweat can further irritate the area. Chafing most often happens around the bra-line area, inner thighs, and underarms. To prevent this, make sure you wear clean, properly fitted clothes (not too loose, not too tight), preferably of the dryfit kind. If you do experience chafing (and you will know when it starts to burn in the shower!), rub a small amount of petroleum jelly or other anti-chafe product on the irritated skin.

Black Toenails: These are the result of bruising and a blood blister forming under the toenail, typically caused by the toes forcefully and repeatedly being pushed up against your running shoes. Your toes may do this for many reasons – your shoes may be too tight, your nails may be too long, the seams of your socks may be irritating you toes, etc. If you do notice your toe becoming black, immediately assess you shoe/sock situation. You may actually have to move up a size in shoe to accommodate this new, but temporary ailment. As for treatment, black toenails look ugly but they don’t always hurt. Many times it will naturally fade or the nail will fall off on it’s own and grow back. However, if your blood blister does become sensitive or appears to be getting worse, check with a doctor who will likely drain the blister for you.

Urinary Incontinence: Although I never really suffered from consistent UI (except for a brief time while running during my pregnancy), I know it is a common problem among female runners. UI is usually caused by a weak pelvic floor and can cause you to leak urine while running. To help prevent UI, you can strengthen your pelvic floor by doing Kegel exercises (that’s right, they are not just for the bedroom!). It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeinated drinks before running and to go to the bathroom right before you leave the house.

No runner is immune to these health issues, just like no runner is immune to injury. The key is to prevent these sidelining mishaps before they start.

Happy and Healthy Running!

Vermont Soap Giveaway!

Vermont may be know for maple syrup and skiing, but it is also home to this organic soap company!

I recently received a box of homemade soap products courtesy of Vermont Soap Organics, the purveyors of everything soap – from cleaners to wash your counters to sultry body soaps for your shower and tub. If any of you follow my other site Bistro Chic, you know by now how much I love soap products, especially little guest soaps, so I just couldn’t pass up a sample or two. And, after doing some research about the product, reading about the ingredients and history, and more, I was smitten with the little soaps.

Like the name says, the products are made from all organic ingredients, handmade from hypoallergenic vegetable bases like coconut and palm oil. The facial and hand soaps are made to fit any skin type from sensitive to dry. Plus – and this is my favorite part – many of their soap products come in a number of scents, including lavender, citrus, butter, and honey. Ooh la la!

Vermont Soap Organics Giveaway!

Now, I have quite a selection of soaps on hand, too many for me to use – so I have a great idea! Why not give some away and let you try them!

One reader will receive a selection of soap products from Vermont Soap Organics, including:

  • Liquid Sunshine for cleaning
  • Lemongrass Zen foaming handsoap
  • Shea nut butter to soothe chapped lips
  • Little bar soaps

To enter, go to Bistro Chic and leave a comment on Bistro Chic telling me which Vermont Soap Organics scented soap intrigues you the most. Or, you can always Tweet or Retweet the Bistro Chic post!  You must enter the giveaway by 9 PM Eastern on Wednesday, October 13, 2010.

Good luck!

5 Reasons To Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day

Dark Chocolate

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The health benefits of dark chocolate have been widely reported in the last few years. It has even been called a superfood due to its positive impact on a variety of health conditions. I rarely need an excuse to eat chocolate. But if you were looking for another reason to eat chocolate every day, here are five good ones!

5 Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate Every Day

  1. Helps our Heart – Numerous studies have associated heart health with eating dark chocolate. Even recent studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants, flavanols, in dark chocolate can help prevent the activation of platelets in the blood, which contribute to heart disease. Other studies show that the antioxidants can even reverse some of the artery damage cause by smoking, although this is definitely not an incentive to keep smoking nor is it a good excuse to start.
  2. Makes You Smarter – Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) is a major source of magnesium, a mineral essential for brain health, while it also helps prevent the plaque build-up that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, there is evidence that chocolate boosts memory, attention span, and increase our reaction time.
  3. Boosts Our Immune System – A 2009  study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dark chocolate has immunity boosting power, possibly helping us fight off infection.
  4. Reduces Stress – Eating about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate every day may help to reduce your stress level, particularly those with moderate to high anxiety.
  5. Helps Us Live Longer – Finally, Harvard researchers found that people who ate chocolate lived an average of one year longer than those who did not, although the association was stronger in men than women.

Have a great night everyone – I’m off to eat some chocolate!

Food Bloggers and Their Favorite Celebrity Chefs

For the last 6 months, I’ve been running steady at 5 days a week. During these workouts, I’ve alternated between long runs, my longest being 10 miles, fartleks/interval runs, and speed runs. This schedule, although it may seem like a piece of cake for those in training, is a significant schedule for me, as a I juggle a full-time job, writing assignments on the side, two kids, and a husband.

I am now in the thick of my busy season as work – a season that lasts from September-November. As a result, I have decided to give myself a break. I’m cutting my running back to 4 days a week, which may not seem like much, but it frees up a whole morning of running for me, allowing me to sleep in (at least sometimes). I actually started running the 4-day a week schedule 2-3 weeks ago and have found that I not only am running better/stronger, but I am eating less and maintaining my healthy weight. Hmm…maybe 4-day a week runs will be a more permanent schedule? We’ll see!

Cookbook Giveaway Winner!

And now for the winner of the Simply Suppers Giveaway….that would be Erin from A Girl and Her Mutt! She commented…

I LOVE Cat Cora! It’s not often enough that you get to see a great female chef bring it hardcore like she does.

I am also a HUGE fan of Mario Batali.

Congratulations Erin! And a HUGE thank you to everyone for sharing the names of your favorite celebrity chef. Leave it to food bloggers to name them all – ha! There were so many names mentioned including Cat Cora, Mario Batali, Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, the Barefoot Contessa, and more. I have to admit, I got a little weepy when I read all of the chef names. I used to watch the Food Network and my favorites chefs all the time. Now that I don’t have cable, I barely watch any TV at all, including the Food Network.

Have a great night everyone 🙂

The Do’s and Don’ts of Carb-Loading for Runners

pasta

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When I was training for my first Half Marathon, I remember loading up on pasta, bagels, and breads a few days before the race. I ended up gaining a few pounds and looking awfully chubby and pasty – so NOT how a distance runner should look! But this practice of carb-loading before my race helped me run 2+ hours and still have energy to burn in the after party.

What is carb-loading?

Runners and endurance athletes have embraced the practice of carb-loading for years. Carb-loading involves maximizing your intake of carbohydrates in order to sustain long-term, intense physical activity, such as a triathlon, marathon, or century ride. But…

Why do we need all of those carbs?

Good question! High-intensity sports, like marathon running, take a significant amount of energy to perform. The energy that we need comes from the food we eat in the form of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Our bodies need all three of these nutrients, but carbs (which our bodies turn into sugar) are our body’s main source of energy and what sustains us the longest during exercise. Hence, carb-loading may help you maximize energy storage and boost your athletic performance.

When should I load up on carbs?

Before you start jumping for joy thinking you can eat every carb under the sun, STOP and read this. Carb-loading isn’t necessary for recreational sports or activities, or even running a 10K! For runners, carb-loading is usually recommended a few days to several hours before a run that will last 90 minutes or more.

How do I carb-load my diet before a big race?

Mayo Clinic explains that traditional carb-loading is done in a two-step process the week before a high-endurance activity.

STEP 1: A week before your event, reduce your carb intake to 50 to 55 percent of your total calories. Keep in mind, 1g of carb equals 4 calories. Therefore, in a 2,000 calorie/day diet, you’ll want to eat no more than 275g of carbs per day. During this time, increase your protein and fat intake to compensate for the calories lost in reducing your carbs. Continue training as normal in order to deplete your carb stores and get your body ready for the Step 2 – carb-loading!

STEP 2: Three to four days before your event, increase your carb intake to 70 percent of your total calories, or 4.5g of carbs per pound of body weight (your weight in pounds x 4.5 = number of grams of carbs). Decrease your intake of fatty foods and scale back on training to save your carb/energy stores for the big day.

What carbs should I eat?

Back in the day, all carbohydrates were given the same importance. Endurance athletes would stock up on any and every carb they could find before a big race or sporting event. Now, after years of research, we know that not all carbs are created equal.

According to Runner’s World, before a long race, you want to take in carbs such as whole grains and fruits. These will give you slow-burning energy and help you avoid rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. During your long training runs or your actual race, you’ll want fast-acting carbs that will convert immediately into glucose/sugar energy. Here’s where bagels, sports gels and drinks, and even candy come in handy.

What about carb intake after my event?

As I’ve mentioned before, remember to eat within an hour of your event to replenish your energy stores. You’ll want to eat a mix of carbs and protein, ie. whole wheat bagels/bread, bananas, protein bar, etc. Keep in mind, you’ll want to reduce your post-event carb intake back to normal levels, about 50-60 percent of your calorie intake.

What are the risks of carb-loading?

1) Weight Gain: On this plan and many carb-loading plans, runners/athletes will gain weight, maybe 2-3 pounds – just as I did. But don’t worry, it’s just water weight and will easily be lost during your high-intensity workout, as long as you don’t continue carb-loading post-race!

2) Digestion Issues: Limit the high-fiber carbs 1-2 days before your event to reduce gas, cramping, and overall digestive discomfort.

3) Blood Sugar Changes: Carb-loading can rapidly change your blood sugar levels. If you’ve had problems with your blood sugar in the past, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before indulging in the carbs.

Now, go forth and be smart about your carbs!

Happy running everyone!

Interview with Iron Chef Cat Cora and Cookbook Giveaway!

The Chicago Gourmet held last weekend played host to many of Chicago’s famous chefs, including Rick Bayless and Jimmy Bannos, Sr. But the event also brought in other, more international chefs, including one Iron Chef – Cat Cora. During this event, I had the pleasure of chatting with Cat Cora about her latest book, how she gets her kids to eat new dishes, and about her new show on OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network.

5 Minutes and 5 Questions with Iron Chef Cat Cora

1) When you’re not doing cooking shows and book tours, what’s a typical day like for you?

I get up with my kids (four boys under age 6), we eat breakfast together, get lunches ready for school, get everybody dressed, then wrangle everybody together to head to school. After that, I go to work in my home office. I also try to get in a workout, maybe a little yoga. Then we end up back at home and done with everything by 5 PM to eat dinner and spend some quality time together.

2) In your latest book, Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist, you have a variety of flavor combinations and ethnic foods. How do you get your kids or kids in general to eat these ethnic foods and try different things? My kids don’t eat everything that I cook for them in this new book. There are some things that they’re just not ready for. It’s about getting them involved in meal planning and mealtimes, gearing the food toward them and actually getting them invested in the meal. If you get kids invested in the meal, they tend to eat more and eat more often, and they feel empowered because they can help make decisions about the meal. And this whole discussion with kids should be a 5-minute conversation not a two hour negotiation – give them two options and have them pick one.

3) How do you decide if/when a new recipe will be added to your restaurant menu?

You need to decide who your audience is first, which helps narrow things down. Then, you need to think about the style of restaurant you have and your concept. When we started the restaurant at Disney, we really had to look at things that were familiar to people. We couldn’t get too crazy or too out-of-the box because it is Disney. You get people from all over the world and there are a lot of different things that they like to eat. We’re about to open a sexy lounge with small plates at the Virgin America terminal at the San Francisco airport. That’s a whole different dynamic and a whole different audience.

4) If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

I definitely know that I would want to perform. I would have definitey tried to go into acting of some kind. I also love to write, so maybe a novelist – and I can still do that, it’s in the future plans!

5) What’s on the horizon for Cat Cora?

I have a new show coming out in January 2011 on Oprah’s network – OWN (which stands for Oprah Winfrey Network). It’s an hour-long show, once a week. We can’t announce what it is or what the name is just yet, but it’s really about bringing families together about food and solving people’s dilemmas in the kitchen – very similar to an intervention show. I’m super excited about it.

Cookbook Giveaway

In keeping with the chef/cooking theme, I’m giving away a brand new book by another notable chef and author Jennifer Chandler. Her book Simply Suppers features homestyle comfort foods, such as potato soup and enchiladas, with a southern flair.

To enter the giveaway, you can either…

  1. Leave a comment on this post about who your favorite celebrity chef is and why OR
  2. Tweet/Retweet this post

You have until Tuesday, October 5 at 9 PM Eastern to enter. Good luck!