Tag Archives: nutrition

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, (http://shauntfitness.com/), 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!