How to Group Your Workouts

3 Dec

A Matter of Movement

I often get asked about what weightlifting exercises to do and which muscle groups to work together. I primarily plan my workouts by which movement is used: either a pushing or pulling action. Think of the the way your body moves when you lift weights.



To work your back or biceps, you are pulling a barbell, dumbbells, or a handle attached to a cable towards you. This is a pulling movement. To work your chest or triceps, you are performing movements that push the weight away from you (think bench press, tricep extensions, overhead presses, etc.). I apply the push vs. pull methodology when training upper body. For lower body, I have a different approach where I combine bend-and-lift movements (i.e. squats or deadlifts) with single-leg movements.

The push vs. pull strategy of the most classic weight training methods. In my personal experience, it has not only proven effective, but it also keeps my routines from getting stale or boring. Here is an example of the body parts I train together:

Lower Body

I choose to train lower body twice per week for a few reasons:

  1. Our legs contain some of the largest muscle groups in our bodies.
  2. Training the lower body directly correlates to shaping and/or increasing muscles (depending on your goals and training regimen) in the upper body. *Translation: if you want your upper body to get bigger, lift with your lower body, too!*
  3. I like to have a toned lower body and hope to create more of a booty than I naturally have. (A girl’s gotta have curves somewhere…)

Here’s how I group my leg workouts:

  • Quads and calves
  • Glutes and hamstrings

– OR –

  • Quads and hamstrings
  • Glutes and calves

Upper Body



I train upper body three to four times per week. I switch up my upper body routine depending on whether I am going to compete or if I feel it is time for a change. Our muscles get accustomed to routine very quickly, so switching exercises up every six to eight weeks is important. Here is how I recommend grouping upper body workouts:

  • Back and biceps
  • Chest, triceps, and/or shoulders

– OR –

  • Back
  • Chest and shoulders
  • Biceps and triceps

Here is where the push vs. pull method comes into play: chest, triceps, and shoulders all involve pushing, while back and biceps require pulling.

Abs & Core

Everyone’s favorite to have but the least favorite for most to work on: abdominals. I recommend doing abs every day that you lift weights. Working abs will ensure that a person has a better trunk, a stronger core, and a system that can tolerate and support the stress demanded of it.

I have tried two main methods for training abs: mixing them into my circuits and completing exercises at the end. I personally love adding ab workouts into my weight training sets. Ab exercises not only provide a needed break from lifting, but they also give a chance for your other muscles (and mind!) to rest. If you just incorporate them into the routine, once you move to the mats to stretch, you are done!

Because I train abs nearly every day, I do three or four sets of two main exercises. A good way to break up abs is into a few different groups: upper abs, lower abs, side abs (obliques), and the muscles that support the spine (erector spinae). Challenge yourself by trying to do three sets of 20 sit-ups on a decline bench. To work the back side of the core, lie on a mat and do supermans. No weight needed for many of the back core exercises! Just holding your arms up is tough enough.

Here’s one of the fit ladies that I really like, Jamie Eason, doing a superman exercise. She has great workout routines, recipe ideas, and helpful fitness tips. Her LiveFit training guide can be accessed here.



My Method in the Gym

When To Do Cardio

I get some cardio in every day. There are countless articles that dispute whether it is more effective to do cardio before or after lifting weights. From everything I have read–and more importantly, from trying both ways–my opinion is this: just do the cardio. Get it in. When I am training for a show and trying to lean out, I do my steady-state, low-impact cardio (heart rate at 150 or below) after weights. However, in my normal, everyday life, I love to get my muscles warm. This time of year, with 20-degree days, I enjoy doing cardio first thing. I try to warm up for at least 20  minutes.

The bottom line is burning calories = burning calories. Do not over-analyze it. If you are training for a fitness competition, hire a trainer or coach. He or she will certainly have an opinion of what to do. Otherwise, do cardio whenever you’ll actually get it done!

Whether I do cardio first or second, I always spend the first 10 minutes warming up my muscles before lifting. I’ll do the actual movement–a squat, for example–with just the bar (no added weight). If it is a movement that requires dumbbells or a barbell (like bicep curls or bent-over rows), I go very light just to wake up my muscles and give them the cue. For me, this is the first signal that establishes my mind-body connection.

Start with the Big Muscle Groups

I start my warm-up with a compound exercise (read: one that works multiple joints and several muscle groups in one movement). On leg days, it’ll likely be squats, lunges, or deadlifts. On a day with chest and triceps, it’ll be bench press and good, old-fashioned push-ups. Days I train shoulders, it’ll be an overhead press with dumbbells. On back day, I go back to the basics: pull-ups and pullovers (either standing with a straight bar from a cable or lying on a bench with a barbell). For biceps, barbell curls will get them going.

Plan Your Routine

Whether you plan your own routine or just copy one from the internet, you can always play around with training. I enjoy circuits because it minimizes my rest time between sets and keeps the workout interesting. I try to do supersets (working opposing muscle groups by perfoming a pulling movement immediately after pushing movement) or compound sets (working the same muscle group with two different exercises, one right after the other).

Frequency of Training

Our muscles need at least 48 hours to recover. Most information I have read cites training the same muscle group every three days. So even though I work different leg muscles, I stagger my two leg days per week three days apart (Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday). For those of you just starting to lift weights, four days per week is plenty. I would do two days of upper body, two days of lower body, with one day of just cardio. The other two days are for resting and recuperating.

The Overlooked Yet Important Parts of Training

After finishing a workout, be sure to stretch and cool down. In my opinion, fitness is composed of three parts: strength, flexibility, and nutrition. We only discussed strength in this post; however, preventing injury and fueling what you work hard to achieve in the gym are of utmost importance. Be sure to stretch the muscles that you worked. Do not leave the gym without doing at least one full-body stretch. Within 30 minutes after your weight session, replenish with protein and simple carbs. Eating enough food throughout the day is important as well so that you are able to push yourself in the gym. For more on nutrition, read my previous blog post here.

With the holidays here, just remember to stay at it! Get the workouts in that you can. I love to do high-interval intensity training (HIIT) when I am short on time or skip the gym to hang out with family. The internet is a great resource. Happy Holidays! Stay motivated!!!



This Week: A Pumpkin Frenzy

27 Oct

Clean, Seasonal Pumpkin Recipes

Gluten-free, dairy-free, and well-balanced

“White girl” jokes aside, I do enjoy some pumpkin-flavored dishes. And I happen to be wearing yoga pants today. Guess some of those jokes exist for a reason! I try to keep my pumpkin cravings in check, opting for food I can make rather than consuming some weird, artificial-tasting pumpkin junk.

I’ve been scouring the internet over the last few weeks searching for clean-eating pumpkin recipes that will actually taste good. It’s hard to strike that balance between being yummy and being wholesome/nutritious for you. I’m naturally neither a good nor creative cook, so the majority of recipes I post are ones I find online and tweak to my liking. The irony is that I am a lot better at baking but cannot use any kind of flour with gluten.

I have been a bit obsessed with quinoa lately for two main reasons: it is an excellent source of complex carbs packed with protein and Costco got me into these “quinoa and brown rice with garlic” pouches (shown below). The pouches are awesome–one just has to squeeze the pouch to break up the rice and quinoa, open the pouch halfway, and pop it into the microwave for 90 seconds.


For the recipe below, I used my regular, unflavored quinoa instead of the pre-made pouch. After all of my experimenting I was pleased with these two little gems: pumpkin spinach quinoa and pumpkin cheesecake parfaits.


Spinach Pumpkin Quinoa

pumpkin spinach quinoa

(Original recipe courtesy of ifoodreal, found here)


  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree  (I only had canned pumpkin, so I ran over a cup of pure pumpkin through the food processor for about 30 seconds)
  • 1.5 cups low-sodium chicken stock (original recipe calls for 3 cups; I cut it in half) + 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves


  1. Cook the quinoa as directed (just like rice: 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa/rice) on stovetop.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion turns clear. Add the pumpkin, chicken stock, and pepper, bringing it all to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the skillet from heat; add the cooked quinoa and spinach. Stir it to combine all ingredients. At this point, I turned the burner back to low-medium to cook the spinach a bit, continually stirring.
  4. Serve warm and enjoy!


  • The original recipe, linked above, calls for parmesan cheese. I am limiting my dairy intake (due to skin and intestinal reactions), so I omitted it. My dish lacked a bit of flavor: I would recommend adding more pepper, allspice, sriracha, or even some curry.
  • I purchased a rotisserie chicken yesterday. I had some left over, so I chopped it into pieces and threw it in with the quinoa. Nom nom nom!
  • This recipe could easily be turned into a pumpkin curry. In place of chicken stock, I would use coconut milk and add 1 tsp of curry powder while cooking. Add some cashews to it, and you’ve got a meal with an entirely different flavor!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfaits


<  hers & his  >

I keep seeing all of these cool “clean-eating” parfait recipes, but I have been hesitant to try them. Usually when I make something, I want to try it right away. Parfaits never appeal to me because you have to refrigerate part of the ingredients for a period of time. I’m just not that patient, and my craving for whatever sounded good subsides by the time it is made. That was not the case with these! Again, I copied a recipe from Please view the original recipe here. I will warn you that the “Healthy 10 Minute Pumpkin Cheesecake Parfaits” title is misleading, as the parfaits only take 10 minutes to construct after refrigerating the ingredients for at least six hours. Here goes my version:


  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk  (I use Blue Diamond)
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree  (again, I turned my canned pumpkin into a puree with the food processor)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice or allspice  (I prefer pumpkin pie spice but only had allspice)
  • 2 cups of whole almonds  (used to grind into almond flour)  -or-  1 1/2 cups of almond flour

Optional Toppings:

  • 1/3 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt  -or- non-dairy whipped topping
  • 2 tbsp chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped pecans


  1. Add almond milk, pumpkin puree, honey, and pumpkin pie spice into a Mason jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Whisk with a fork until well mixed. *Refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.*
  2. Grind up almonds in a food processor, turning them into almond flour. Remove half of the almond flour and divide it between two serving glasses.
  3. Add the cooled pumpkin mixture to the food processor with the remaining almond flour. Blend 3-5 minutes until smooth and tasty.
  4. Pour the pumpkin + almond flour mixture over the almond flour in the glasses.
  5. Top with Greek yogurt or non-dairy whipped topping, chocolate chips, toasted pecans, and/or drizzled chocolate.
  6. Serve cold or store in the refrigerator.


  • The original recipe calls for 3 sheets of graham crackers to blend in the food processor and use as a base. Because I am gluten-free, I opted for almond flour.
  • The original recipe includes chia seeds in the pumpkin mixture, which are a wonderful, nutritional addition.
  • To make the chocolate topping, heat the coconut oil and chocolate chips in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time. Stir the chocolate in between to distribute heat evenly. Pour on top of your parfait.
  • Toast pecans or almonds in a bit of coconut oil, chop, and sprinkle on the parfait.

As you can see in the photo above, I forgot to leave some of the almond flour aside to put it as the bottom layer. My parfait is on the left: gluten- and dairy-free. I avoid yogurt but added a couple of chocolate chips on top. I was surprised with how good mine was, even without the extra toppings. The one I made for my husband has the Greek yogurt topping and was also delicious!

Enjoy and Happy Autumn!!!

Thanks to for providing the base for both recipes.

Favorite Summer Salads

29 Jul

It’s hot out. Trust me–you do not want to fire up that oven! I made that mistake a couple of weeks ago on one of our 100-degree days. I was absolutely pooped the rest of the day and struggled to be chipper throughout my night shift.

Since then, I’ve resorted to putting some of those fresh veggies in my fridge to use. I have a couple of favorite recipes that I’ve adapted to make them more “clean”.

Broccoli Salad

This is a take on the well-known broccoli bacon salad. Instead of making a salad that drenches broccoli in mayonnaise and increases the fat content with bacon, I found a recipe like this one (, which replaces the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt.


In order to make this quick and easy salad, you’ll need:

  • 2-3 heads of broccoli, chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 serving of slivered almonds (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup of raisins or craisins

When I make this salad, I just use raw broccoli. Other recipes recommend blanching the broccoli first to make it easier to digest. I simply put the broccoli, almonds, and raisins together in a bowl. Then I whisk the Greek yogurt (I tend to use 1/3 cup instead of 1/4 because I like broccoli and have to even out the dressing a bit) with the balsamic vinegar. There are several variations to this. If the dressing is too think, I add a bit of almond milk to smooth it out a bit. If I want to make it a bit sweeter, I put about 2 tsp of honey into the dressing.

After whisking the dressing, I pour it over the salad and toss it well. Put the salad in the fridge for at least half and hour, and you’ll have a cool, healthy treat for lunch or dinner.

Summer Slaw

My husband and I attended an “informational session” at Crossfit GP when the new location had  first opened on M Street. We had heard all about Crossfit in Korea and thought we’d check it out. The mini-workout they had us do was a lot of fun. As guests who attended the session, our names were put into a drawing, and we won a paleo cookbook! It has been a wonderful resource. There are parts of the paleo diet that wouldn’t work for me personally (like not having legumes–as an athlete, I refuse to cut peanuts out of my diet when I am not getting ready for a show). Because I have Celiac’s disease, I am already pretty restricted and choose clean sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that are signatures of the Paleo diet. Here is the book we won:

EP(Sarah, the author, has her own website by the same name. It’s a very informative resource. I recommend checking it out if you’re curious about the Paleo lifestyle or just need some inspiration for recipes:

The book has a recipe for “Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Slaw.” I have basically adapted Sarah’s recipe to utilize food that I almost always have on hand. You’ll need:

  • 2 chicken breasts or 5 chicken tenderloins, cooked and chopped
  • 1 small apple
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage (I usually get the 2 bags of packaged shredded cabbage mix)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper to taste

The only other thing that Sarah puts in her slaw is 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes. You could use those, or the other day I had two fresh plum tomatoes that needed to be eaten, so I chopped them up and tossed them in.

First cut up your cooked chicken, apple, and fresh tomatoes (if applicable). Toss that all in a bowl together. Then whisk the olive oil, balsamic, oregano, salt, and pepper together. Toss the dressing in with the salad and refrigerate for at least half an hour. My husband absolutely loves this one; I make it at least once a week for our work lunches.

With either salad, you can add or substitute ingredients. The slaw would probably be good with canned tuna instead of chicken; you could add raisins instead of an apple. Be sure to go easy with using raisins, though, as they are high in sugar (still somewhat okay because it is natural sugar!).

Enjoy these summer salads. Remember, it’s important to eat healthily while beating the heat!

Nutrition Information

19 Jun

Heather (21)

After my recent competition, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who asked me for nutritional advice. While I would love to tailor a plan for each individual based on what I’ve learned, I know my body and what has worked for me. That said, a person can Google “best diet”, and he/she will come up with a million hits. The problem is that there are so many “diets”–or ways of eating–out there that it is hard to know what is right for you and what will work. Here are a few key things that I go by.

*Remember, what I have learned is applicable to active individuals, for those that are either lifting at least three to four times per week, doing High Intensity Interval Training, or who maintain a workout routine. Eating as I have outlined below will not work if you are a sedentary person.*

General Nutritional Guidelines

Many of these key points I learned from the amazing Shaun T, (, trainer of the popular at-home “Insanity” and Team Beachbody workouts. He is inspirational and has indirectly served as a catalyst for my fitness journey (read previous posts for more about that).

– Think of food as fuel, 

not as something you turn to when you’ve had a long day, are feeling tired, are bored, or just need something to keep your hands and mouth occupied.

– Food = energy. 

There are two main energy sources that our bodies use: one is fat; the other is carbohydrates. (All food can be classified into one of three main food groups: carbs, fat, and/or protein.) The contagious trend over the last few years has been to avoid carbs. People are flocking to this phenomenon in the form of gluten-free, paleo, and Atkins diets. Here’s the thing about those darn, misunderstood things: carbs are not evil.

What I mean is good, complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs offer all of the nutrition our bodies need to function and pump out energy when we exert ourselves. The problem is we do not need an abundance of any carbs sitting in front of a screen for eight to ten hours per day. Complex carbs come in the form of vegetables, whole grains, and cereals. I am careful when choosing my complex carbs since I have Celiac’s disease (a gluten allergy). My favorite sources of complex carbs are:

veg carbscomplex carb








  • brown rice
  • Ezekial bread (gluten-free versions available)
  • oatmeal
  • rice cakes (made from brown rice, not corn)
  • sweet potatoes
  • red potatoes
  • broccoli
  • brussel sprouts
  • spinach
  • spaghetti squash
  • zucchini

I always start my day with oatmeal and add protein powder and a small amount (half of a serving size) of peanut butter to it so that I get the energy (carbs) from the oatmeal plus the protein to balance it out.

– Eat your largest meal(s) earlier in the day.

Do not be afraid of breakfast! There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we have to literally break the fast under which our bodies underwent over the night. Second, we need to jumpstart our metabolism so that our bodies and minds are awakened and ready to rock. Most bodybuilders start their day with a small serving of oatmeal and 8-9 egg whites. That is a lot of food in the morning! For the average person who works out three to five times per week, you probably only need two egg whites and a half serving of oatmeal. Again, it is all about balancing the carbs with some protein (protein is vital in maintaining and building muscle).

Make sure you identify a few nutritious options for breakfast and start your day off with those.

– Hydrate all throughout the day.

Contrary to what you might think with where one of my jobs is, I do not mean with coffee–I mean with water. I purposely am writing this immediately after discussing breakfast because you should try to drink at least one glass upon waking up. I personally have about two cups of coffee in the morning while working at my desk, then about 10 a.m. I switch to water. I keep my water bottle with me at all times, fill it before it gets empty, and just keep swigging. Most active people need a minimum of a gallon per day; when competing or bodybuilding, it is recommended that athletes drink 1.5 to 2 gallons per day. *Remember, if you are drinking alcohol, 1 glass of water to each alcoholic beverage (1 beer = 1 glass of wine = 1 shot).*

– Replenish depleted energy sources after your weight-lifting or HIIT workout by consuming protein + carbs within the first hour.

I strategically choose to drink my protein shake within 30 minutes after my workout. I usually add a banana to my chocolate-flavored protein powder and blend it to make a lil’ milkshake, which is a huge treat when competition dieting. You do need carbs, though, too after exercising. I have a rice cake or two with some natural peanut butter on it. This should not be a big meal, just more of a snack to replace what you lost during exercise.

– Eat well prior to your workout.

I try to eat complex carbs (usually brown rice or sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli or green beans) within two hours before my workout. Ideally, I like it to be an hour or so before when getting lean so that I have energy in the gym. One of my good friends who does Crossfit told me she was eating only a salad for lunch four hours prior to going to her Crossfit workout. About two hours after eating the salad, she would be starving and automatically went for what was on hand: the processed candy (jelly beans, M&Ms, Skittles, and gummy worms) on display at her work. Her body was craving some good carbs. Involuntarily, her body knew that, which is why she was drawn to the “bad” (i.e. simple) carbs made from high-fructose corn syrup. Don’t set yourself up for failure before or after your workout!

– Eat lighter as the day goes on, with your last meal being the lightest.

This concept goes back to our body being able to burn calories throughout the day while we are active. Think about it: why would we physiologically need to eat half of a pizza prior to going to bed? Our bodies are not going to do anything with that exorbitant amount of an energy source while we are sleeping–except store it as fat. If you were running a half-marathon the next morning, I’d say go for it! But most of us don’t do that on a daily basis, nor should we eat like we do. I do not believe in having no carbs after a certain time of day. It all depends on your energy expenditure and what you are eating. I try to have vegetables all throughout the day, but I definitely consume more of them at night. My last meal of the day will typically be a salad topped with vegetables and chicken breast.

– Eat smaller meals more frequently.

Most of us do not need to consume six 600-calorie meals in a day. But many of us can benefit from five or six 300-calorie meals in a day. It is very important than when eating more often, you limit your servings. Measure food out according to the serving size listed on nutrition labels. A lot of athletes prefer to weigh their food rather than worry about counting calories. That works, too. I try to have about 4 ounces of protein in every meal. Protein alone will not satisfy you, however. I always try to pair protein with either a good fat or carb source. For example, if I have a light-carb dinner like spinach salad, I add hard-boiled eggs on top (protein) and about 8-10 almonds (good source of fat). My target here is to pair the protein with the fat.

– Limit the sugar.

As I’ve already touched on, refined sugar really does damage to our bodies. It throws off all of our internal gauges of how our body is doing and drastically reduces our overall physiological function. Because sugar is not essential to our bodies, try to limit–if not cut out entirely–refined sugar. I try not to purchase anything that has high fructose corn syrup in it. When baking, I use “natural” sugar sources, i.e. raw honey. Rather than reach for a box of SourPatch Kids (my favorite of the gummy candies), choose berries, a banana, dark chocolate-covered mangoes or raisins. If you reduce your intake of unnatural sugar, I promise you will instantly feel better. Give yourself three days to start. Try to stretch those three days to a week. When really having a craving, research what a good alternative is (hello, Google!) and go for a “clean” dessert of some kind. Fruit is always a good option. I love dipping strawberries in melted dark chocolate and putting them in the freezer for a bit. My mom recently told me about a recipe she found for dipping blueberries in plain Greek yogurt. Yum!

– Prepare food ahead of time if you can.

This is the single most important step that I would stress. You must prepare yourself to succeed in eating well and becoming healthier. In order to do so, prep and pack food ahead of time. Here is what my fridge looks like during the week:



The little blue lunch pail is what I take with me to work every day. And I eat nearly everything in it by the time I get home. If I do not eat it all when I get home, it is definitely empty by the end of the day. There are Tupperware containers scattered about; my husband and I just grab one and pop it into the microwave.

Of course, this is ideal and not everyone has time to do this. Whether you go out to eat or simply do not have time to prepare your own food, just make wise nutritional choices. If you’ve been dying all week to have pasta, choose one made from brown rice and opt for a Mediterranean sauce with olive oil and veggies rather than a white pasta made with creamy alfredo.

These are my main points in regards to nutrition. I did not get into the science of how carbohydrates break down into our bodies or what happens scientifically with excess calories. It really comes down to thinking about food as a fuel source and analyzing how we physiologically do not demand the nutrition our ancestors needed. I have many theories about the food industry here in the U.S., but that is an entirely different post. For now, just work on adjusting how you are eating now. Feel free to ask questions; I have learned by trial and error specifically about the gluten-free lifestyle and competition dieting. It’s all about balance.


Being Gluten-Free in Brazil

5 Mar

I arrived to the Rio de Janeiro airport in the wee hours of the morning. I quickly saw that the city was already hustling and bustling about. I expected the airport to be a bit of a mad house: people coming up to you, offering you a hostel, taxi, tour, hotel, ride to wherever you would want to go. That was what I encountered in Mumbai, India, and for some reason, I thought Rio would be just as overwhelmingly. Surprisingly, there were the usual smatterings of people holding signs with foreign names, or signs touting the name of their tour companies, but there were not many people. Which was a relief!

I stopped at the tourist information desk before leaving the airport, armed with a map and a booklet of which airport bus to take. It was quite easy to find the stop for the blue airport “omnibus,” although none of the operators seemed to know exactly which bus we should get on. After about half an hour, I asked the operators again, then checked with the bus driver (in Espanol rather than Portuguese) to verify he could take me to Copacabana. Next thing I knew, we were rolling down the busy highway towards Rio’s city center!

I hadn’t done any research on the food in Brazil prior to going. From the bus, I saw bakeries (padarias) filled with gluten-free pastries, some fancy restaurants, a few standard cafeterias, but no supermarkets. I was a bit afraid of what I would find waiting for me. After checking into our hostel, we headed out to the beach. Little did I know that Brazil has a plethora of choices when it comes to beverages. My three favorite ones are:

– coco gelado (ice cold coconut water that the servers hatch into with a machete and stick a straw into)

coco gelado

– acai (yes, the superfood berry is blended up into a smoothie…and it is to die for! this got me through the ultra-humid days and hikes around the city. You can order it just as a “bebida” and it will come as a smoothie. If that is too thick, you can find acai juice in the markets)

acai smoothie

– caipirinha (the national cocktail of Brazil, made with its famous alcohol, cachaça, sugar, and lime)


Out of all of the South American countries, Brazil is among the most expensive ones in which to travel–and, I quickly realized,  to eat out. One main entree can run between 50 and 100 Brazilian reais, about $25-$50 USD. We could not afford to do the tours we wanted and eat out once a day for that price. Instead, we opted for the local supermarket. Most Brazilian supermercados offer a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. My husband and I love to eat meat (we still try to make protein a large part of our diet, despite neither currently lifting weights nor engaging in high-intensity interval training). We were delighted to find steak in the supermarkets for around $5 USD for 300-400 grams. Of course the price varied depending on the cut of meat, but we ate well with what we purchased. We got into a routine of purchasing most of our food at a supermarket and making one big meal (usually dinner) per day back at the shared kitchen in our hostel.

As far as vegetables, good, fresh lettuce was hard to come by. Most of what we found was wilted and undesirable. We opted for bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and carrots. The fruit in Brazil was amazing! We ate a fresh mango–purchased for $1-2 USD–every night. They were better-tasting to me than the ones we had in Thailand. The meat we got was not excellent quality, but it was tasty for its extremely affordable price. We squeezed lime and sprinkled pepper over it as it was cooking, and it was filling after a long day out and about. During the day, we ate small meals and/or snacks frequently. These little guys saved me:

povilho snacks

They are “polvinho” cookies or “polvinho biscuits,” although they do not taste like cookies or biscuits. They are light, airy snacks that come in a few different flavors (traditional (which is just lightly salted), cheese, salsa and onion, and sweet). I think I tried each flavor, and all of them were good! They aren’t the most nutritious, but when a Celiac is in a bind and/or on a 22-hour bus ride, these snacks sure do taste good. Other than these, I mostly ate fruit, veggies, and lunch meat. DO NOT eat the canned tuna. It is fishy and cannot be compared to anything other than cat food. I also found meringues in the supermarkets, which were nice to curb my sweet tooth.

Breakfast in Brazil is not easy. Every morning in each hostel we stayed in, we were served small French bread loaves either with cold cuts (processed meat and cheese) or hot dogs that had been cut up and cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions. Luckily, I can tolerate oats. I just carried plain instant oatmeal (which I found in the supermarkets, labeled “flocos de aveia” or “aveia com flocos”) with me to each hostel and asked for a bowl. Depending on what the hostel offered, I’d either add fruit or a bit of jam to the oatmeal for flavor. For those true Celiacs that cannot tolerate oats, it would be best to make your own breakfast or bring something that you can eat. You can easily find eggs in the supermarkets, although Brazilians usually eat them for lunch or dinner with rice or on a sandwich.

Of course, you have to try some dishes to better understand the culture and country you are visiting. My good Brazilian friend lives in Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais. I informed her of my allergy prior to visiting her. She took my husband and me out to a Bahian restaurant and ordered moqueca, a seafood stew with a thick yellow-orangeish broth that reminded me of yellow curry. The taste, however, was far different from curry and had a hint of cilantro. Accompanying the moqueca was a bright orange powder that my friend encouraged me to put with  the stew and rice. I was hesitant because it looked like a flour of some kind. After verifying with our server that there was no wheat and/or gluten in it, I tried it. Boy, was it delicious! We stuffed ourselves.


Here is the “flour” we added to our stew:

manioc flour

I researched what moqueca was made out of because my friend kept telling me the Brazilian word. It translated as “manioc,” and I had absolutely no idea what that was! Turns out that manioc, along with polvinho, come from the same root: the cassava plant.

Because my friend is from Minas Gerais, she wanted to share some local food with me. I hesitated because its name was pao de  queijo, literally “cheese bread.” We checked the back of all of the packages, and they proudly announced, “NAO CONTEM GLUTEN!” After double-checking each ingredient in the pao, I ate four of five of these rolls to my heart’s content.  My friend informed me that pao de queijo is a typical breakfast food. Many Brazilians tear the little rolls in half and spread butter or marmalade on them–or even a slice of cheese! To me, they were perfect right out the oven without anything added. It was such a treat to eat gluten-free bread that could be found in any supermarket! Here they are:

pao de queijo

©Lucia Adverse 2009

The moral of this long post: in Brazil, the cassava root, shown below, is your best gluten-free friend!

Here is the root in its natural form, then the flour produced from it:

cassava root

cassava flour

Enjoy your visit to Brazil and please share any gluten-free treasures you found and/or know of for other travelers to try. ;D

I’m currently in Peru and am taking notes of what to eat–and what to avoid–and will update with a Gluten-Free Peru edition within the next few weeks. Please check back!

Revised Gluten-Free Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Brownies

3 Nov




I decided to make these brownies again, coming up with a more accurate, delicious recipe of my own. I incorporated coconut flour this time. It was my first time using it, and now I see what everyone was talking about! It adds a sweet, light flavor to gluten-free baked goods and makes the consistency a bit smoother. Again I used agave instead of refined sugar. My toppings this time were chocolate chips on one side and a cut-up Snickers bar on the other (a straggler leftover from Halloween). I used more chocolate powder for an intense flavor. Although I liked this recipe better, the only thing I would change are the sweet potatoes used. I only hand the ones with the yellow inside; I think the ones with the orange flesh would make the consistency smoother. I’ve found they’re a bit sweeter as well. Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think!

**Revised Recipe:

– 1 1/2 medium sweet potatoes, boiled

– 1 large egg and 2 large egg whites

– 2-3 oz. dark chocolate   (I made my own with unsweetened cocoa powder – see below)

– 1/4 c. agave

– 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil

– 1 tbsp. vanilla

– 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

– 3 tbsp. coconut flour

– 1/2 tsp. baking soda

To Make:

1) Peel the boiled sweet potatoes. Mash, mix, or puree them together. After sweet potatoes are mashed, start concocting your dark chocolate (alternatively, you can use chocolate chips and/or baking chocolate and melt it down).

* If you do not have baking chocolate, you can use the unsweetened cocoa powder. To make your own dark chocolate like I did, mix 3 tbsp. of cocoa powder with 1 tbsp. of grapeseed oil. Melt them together in a double-boiler, then add the dark chocolate to the mashed potatoes.

2) After the potatoes and dark chocolate are combined, add in the wet ingredients: egg and egg whites, agave or honey, vanilla, and grapeseed oil. Mix by hand or with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended.

3) Now add the dry ingredients: unsweetened cocoa powder, coconut flour, and baking soda. Mix well.

4) This batter was less lumpy than the first batch I made. It was sweeter and more consistent than the first one–the batter even tasted better! Add any toppings you want, sugar-free or not. ;p

5) Bake at 350 Fahrenheit / 175 Celsius for about 25-30 minutes. Check the center of the brownies by putting a clean knife in the middle. Mine cooked a bit faster than the first batch. Enjoy! Super yummy…

I’d love to hear your feedback if you try it.

Flourless Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

29 Oct

I had an intense chocolate craving. With the fall season quickly approaching here in Korea, all I’ve been wanting to do is bake!!! The cold weather gets me down, and I am missing home this autumn season. This is my fourth fall in South Korea. Suddenly, the thought of another holiday season here, the lack of Halloween candy in the stores, the absence of the excitement at the beginning of the holiday season…it’s all just kind of gotten to me more this year. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older?! Maybe it’s part of the post-competition blues (still)?! Whatever it is, I know one thing for sure: my toaster oven is quickly (and dangerously) becoming my best friend.

While Googling gluten-free cookie recipes, I stumbled across one that used all of the “natural” ingredients I’ve been wanting to incorporate: PB2 (my powdered natural peanut butter), Nestle’s unsweetened cocoa powder, agave nectar, and chocolate chips. I found great new blog (!) called It was originally dedicated to vegan food and yoga, but now Averie, the author, has shifted the focus to desserts. Its name officially now is “Averie Cooks”. Here’s the link: Thanks to Averie for sharing the original recipe. I used her recipe, substituting agave for both the white and brown sugars. I wasn’t sure how the recipe would turn out, so I made half batch (about 10 small cookies). For a full batch, just double the recipe. Here it is:

Half Batch

– 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

– 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (I used PB2, but Averie used Natural JIF in hers–something I can’t get in Korea)

– less than 1/2 cup agave sweetener

– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1/4 to 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chocolate chips

– 1 egg white

1) I first had to “make” the peanut butter, which consists of combining PB2 natural peanut butter powder with water. It took about 6-7 tablespoons to make 1/2 cup. Put the peanut butter, cocoa powder, agave, and vanilla into the bowl. Use the egg white of one regular-size egg by separating it. Mix all ingredients together.

2) After all ingredients are mixed well, add in your chocolate chips and stir.

*Averie suggested putting the dough into the freezer to make a thicker, fluffier cookie. I wasn’t sure if my dough would work properly with the substitutions. It looked a bit runny, so I stuck it in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes while I baked a “test cookie”. It worked!

3) Drop cookies by the spoonful or roll into 1-inch balls and place them onto the cookie sheet. I greased mine with grapeseed oil. I made these cookies bite-sized, but you can make them bigger if desired.

4) Bake at 350 Fahrenheit (I put mine at just above 200 Celsius) for 10-12 minutes. I found 10 minutes was the perfect amount of time. As Averie suggests, watch the cookies carefully! Because they are dark chocolate, it is hard to tell when they are done versus when they are burnt!

These cookies were rich and delicious. I was happy that they turned out well with all of my substitutions. I recommend them for anyone who is craving chocolate. The bite-size portions were perfect as well. I’m curious to hear how other people’s experiences are. The original recipe can be found here: