The Anti-Stress Diet

Stress is like hot sauce; a little bit goes a long way. It can be great –  mixing things up a bit and providing just enough spice to push you through {insert challenge / perceived life-threatening event / random situation}. But dump it all over the place, all the time? Your system will be quick to say “THIS IS NOT GOOD!”, more is not better, and eventually it starts to shut down because dang that ish is spicy and it is up to no good.

Stress comes in many forms, flavors and costumes. It could be travel, low-sleep, high intensity training, work, family, friends, traffic, the line at the grocery store – each day, trigger and response is different for all of us!

But the internal response and havoc? It’s always the same.

no bad vibes source: kushandwizdom.tumblr.com

My job as a health coach first introduced me to the importance of stress management, as we had to become experts of sorts in how to help people connect the stress – health dots.

Then I started heart-rate training (have I mentioned this?), and stress took on an entirely new meaning to me. Training is basically a continual dose-response stress test. Too little? You won’t see much progress. Just enough? Boom! You’re loving this training thing and sleeping like a baby! Too much? No bueno. You’ll barely sleep, curse your HRM and feel the tank empty. Sometimes it’s training stress, but more often than not it’s the extra stress you add from your lifestyle that affects your training. The heart will try telling you to calm the heck down, lay off the sauce and don’t you dare try making things even crazier!

But there are a few ways you can fight back! I use these tactics regularly – daily, for most – and finally feel like I’m winning the balancing act, with a LOT of help from this gal. Collectively, you could consider these habits an Anti-Stress Diet, or just a smart way to start telling your body Hey, dude, I GOT YOU.

1. SLEEP. Enough. Often. On a schedule.
With your eyes closed and your mind off.

no sleep

I’ve never skimped too much on sleep, but until we moved to California I had no idea what a difference it would make to actually get enough. I now get 7-8 hours on the reg and have no shame in my 9:30pm bedtime.

2. Treat your gut nicely. Eat real foods!

There’s no secret to this one – we all know the difference between real and highly-processed foods. I’m sure it comes as no shock to your brain that our bodies much prefer fresh food to manufactured ones. Your intestines are great friends with fruits, vegetables, proteins, oils, nuts and seeds – they’re all like “Oh it’s so nice to see you again!” and happily move them along their way. Throw a 20+ ingredient “Protein Bar” in there? It’s all like “Dude, I don’t even know where to start.” And it stays in there until your intestine can break away all the crap and search for anything worth salvaging. It becomes inflamed and suddenly you’ve created more stress.

3. While you’re at #2, throw in some anti-inflammatory Omega-3s.

Omega-3 fats are considered essential because our body can’t generate them, we must get them from our diets. They’re also essential because an adequate intake may help reduce risk of heart disease and, important to today’s topic, reduce inflammation. Food sources of these healthy fats include nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds (flax, chia), oils (canola, flaxseed, olive) and…for the best bang-for-your-fat-buck, fish (sardines, salmon, tuna and trout – go for wild-caught if you can). Some grass-fed meats/poultry and Omega-3 enriched eggs are options, as well.

4. Keep inflammation-inducing food/drink low.
Really low.

This may not be a total surprise, but alcohol, sugar and excess caffeine can stress your system out. If you know you’re stressed, ease back or eliminate these things entirely. It’ll help your system stay focused on the task-at-hand without having to deal with more incoming stress.

Intake of these things doesn’t have to perfectly at “zero” all the time, but be mindful of your indulgences when you know your body is working hard to fight whatever it is you’re fighting (it all looks the same on the inside: STRESS).

5. Fill up the water bottle!

No skimping, reading labels or trickery here! Hydration is easy, your body just wants some plain ol’ H2O all day, every day. It’s easy to mistake hunger for thirst, and hard to function optimally when your fluids are low. Avoid all of the confusion, fatigue and, of course, stress, by filling up your water bottle and drinking it down.

What You Do Every Day

source: happiness-project.com

This short list certainly doesn’t encompass everything we can do to manage stress, but they’re some of the easiest ways to do so every day. These things add up, they work and they keep your systems happy. You don’t have to do things perfectly 100% of the time, but it sure helps if you avoid digging your own holes to climb out of. 

What are some of your go-to stress reducing techniques?

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100 Minutes of Plank – What’s Next? {Spoiler: V-Sit Challenge}

I have 18 minutes to go, but the dude finished early and his “100 minute” total next to mine is quite the motivation. There will be one more “HOLD IT FOR FOREVER” test (current record: 6 min 30 seconds), to see what I can do, and then a lot more of this:

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The 30-day Plank challenge is topping my list of favorite-monthly-goals so far. It got me out of a core-strengthening-box I didn’t even realize I was comfortably closed up in. I took work breaks to plank, did multi-minute plank holds as part of my weekly strength workouts (instead of “just” 1 minute) and challenged myself to plank after my first 3-hour long run of the training cycle (that may have been a mistake…). We planked on the beach, seriously considered planking in the aisle of an airplane (but no), and used plank as an excuse to explore and settle into a few Bellevue, WA parks while traveling for work  (see pic above).

Relax in the sun? Yes. .Do it while planking? Also yes.

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The new-norm is to hold it for 2 minutes, do side-plank for 60-90 seconds, hold it again, and alternate for a few minutes. Coach K challenged me to pull my elbows an inch forward while doing forearm plank, and my abs just about fell off right-that-second. He challenged me to plank with a weight on my back and I drew the “Absolutely not” line very clearly. Maybe next time, yo!

And now, almost 30 days later:

I see a little more definition, a happier long-running gait and a core that’s ready for the next step.

————————–

So, what’s next, hmmmm?

Laura (check her out at Precise Pilates!) & I are teaming up for October’s 100 minute challenge – the V-sit (aka Boat Pose). It’s regularly part of my prescribed weekly strength/stability workout and never gets easier. The schedule usually reads “1 minute V-Sit”; 4 months later my legs still violently shake about 45 seconds in. I definitely can’t straighten my legs for the full hold (stretched hamstrings?! Ha. No.), but that’s not my ultimate goal. Rather, I’ll settle for getting through those 60 seconds without thinking this may be the toughest balance pose of them all. (But isn’t it?! Srsly.)

It will not defeat me. It will not make me revert to 30-second holds for the rest of forever. NO, V-SIT. I will get you, even if it takes me 30 days and 100 minutes of trying for the win.

Who’s in?

#30daysofVsit or #100minutechallenge – tweet, Insta, jam it up!

(Suggestions for future challenges are welcomed!)

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Healthy Habits of the Traveler in {MCM} Training

Fact: it’s a challenge to keep up with your daily habits while you’re traveling, no matter what category they fall into. The layers of difficulty can quickly pile up depending on where you’re going, for how long, why, how you’re getting there, and you know, any other life things you may have going on at the time!

I never turn down an opportunity to travel, simply because it means branching out of the norm and getting some sort of experience. But as of late the travel has been frequent, so I’ve had to get creative in maintaining some sense of normalcy for my system-in-marathon-training.

Last week I got to head up north to Seattle for four days to conduct a few coaching trainings. I love that city. Love it. But in those four days my schedule also included three runs – one of which would be over 3 hours. I wanted to eat healthy for those runs, to avoid being the girl in Seattle seen frantically searching for public bathrooms in her running attire. And I wanted to keep stress levels low so that my heart wouldn’t decide it had its own plans for those miles.

Here’s how that stay-on-track strategy looks, in my world….

1) Bring what you love (and what you need*)!

I packed peanut butter, fruit, homemade trail mix (pepitas, almonds, cashews, dried blueberries and raisins), Larabars and a refillable water bottle. I also packed my Long-Run *essentials: handheld water bottle, hat and fuel.

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I’ve learned to pack nut-butter in tupper-ware, as the TSA deems the ‘jar’ a liquid in some cases. And that’s been confiscated. And that was a bad day.

2) Shop for the rest!

Once I got myself to the hotel, I immediately looked up a grocery store. As you might assume, the Seattle area is saturated with healthy options! So, this one was easy. I headed straight to Trader Joe’s after lunch (see: leftover Thai food, ‘Thank you!”) and stocked up on the good stuff:

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Obviously that tiny tupper-ware of peanut-butter wouldn’t suffice for the whole weekend. The other things: bananas, salad for lunch the next day, organic peaches and apples, plums, (not pictured) sparkling water and sea-salt + almond dark chocolate.

This was one of three grocery-store stops in 4 days.  Just trying to do my part for the health food store economy!

3) Use the web to plan ahead! 
  
  It’s full of (mostly good) information. Exhibit A: MapMyRun.com

MMRbellevue run_MMR

Friday morning had “3:10 // 20 miles” on the schedule (i.e. run for that amount of time, as prescribed, and don’t exceed 20 miles). I did a quick search of the hotel’s zip code with a mileage filter and found a ton of options. This search also led me to quite a few park trails in the area, which would be ideal for many miles during the Friday morning commuting hours.

Another vital MapMyRun tool while running in Seattle? The elevation chart. It took me a while, but I finally mapped a route that only included approximately 1,000 ft of climbing over those three hours. That’s skill.

4) Stick to your workout ‘plan’ (make one, first).

Exploring new cities with a run is always fun, but I rarely feel motivated to do so before tying up the laces and convincing myself to GO. As soon as the legs get moving, I’m happy. In three runs I discovered crazy-hilly neighborhoods, a cute little park near my hotel and a lovely downtown area to return to for some afternoon sun-soaking and planking.

Having a plans works wonders; I don’t do as well with the “we’ll just see what happens!”. On this trip I wanted to check a few training boxes and, of course,  stick to the plank challenge!

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When on vacation, attempt a new plank-hold record. At least when your arms and legs start shaking, no one’s watching your craziness…or judging your continuous plank-selfies…

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5) Head back to the grocery store!
I.e. Take advantage of the Whole Foods (
or similar available option
) hot + cold bars.

In four days I managed to only eat “out” twice. I was lucky to have stayed in the Hyatt House Hotel, where each room is stocked with a few kitchen supplies and a full-sized fridge. But even a mini one would have sufficed here – there’s luxury in having a real plate to eat off of, along with real utensils. Bliss!

Thursday afternoon I went to Whole Foods and picked up the following from the buffet bars:

Dinner (Pre-LR): honey-ginger salmon, steamed kale, roasted vegetables (squash, onions and peppers), roasted cumin sweet potatoes.

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Breakfast (Post-LR): two hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes (from the salad bar), plain roasted sweet potatoes, 1 avocado (from produce section). (I already had my pre-run banana + Peanut-butter ready to go – see picture above.)

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Before heading to the airport on Saturday, I made my third trip to WF in as many days. I wanted to make sure lunch was full of fresh deliciousness, since dinner in an airport is rarely promising…

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From the WF salad bar: mixed greens, grated carrots, marinated mushrooms, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, diced celery, Italian dressing and a side of roasted sweet potatoes. To drink: lemon-flavored sparkling water.

——

All-in-all, pretty successful trip. I eased right back into training – thankfully with the new pair of kicks that finally arrived on my doorstep. The only thing that’s different is I’ll be right back to running along the bay this week, jonesin’ for that PNW sunshine and already-cooked, ready-to-eat meals.

For those who travel often – work, or wanderlusting – what are some of your must-dos to keep things feeling somewhat normal?

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{September} 30-Day Plank Challenge

We’re fans of monthly challenges, and it started with the “300 Burpees!” challenge in July, which I miserably failed. And I’m okay with that, because they’re BURPEES. And man, they are no fun. I may have made it to 150 or so before just being like, NO MORE. Nope.

August flew by and when September neared, he suggested we join his CrossFit gym’s 30-day plank challenge.

Planks! Yes! I love those. I’m in.

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The ‘rules’ are simple: 30 days – 100 minutes of plank holds

You could do side-planks, forearm and/or regular. Do it at home, the gym, the beach, or wherever suits you.

According to ACE  (not to be confused with the hardware store or education council), this is on the list of Top 10 Exercises for ab and back strength + endurance. It can also help build strength for push-ups, as it’s the same form and activates the same muscles. They’re easy to incorporate to any fitness routine because this exercise requires no equipment – just drop, get your form right, and HOLD.

    1. Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor.
    2. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows.
    3. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
    4. Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle.

Source: http://exercise.about.com/od/abs/ss/abexercises_10.htm

Start with 20-30 seconds and see how it feels. Make sure your lower back isn’t sinking; suck in your abs and extend your legs all the way through your heels. Work up to 60 seconds, and then see where that goes!

Kate, in her infinite competitive spirit, posted a plank picture to me and very nonchalantly commented that it was a 4-minute hold. In the spirit of the challenge, I obviously had to give that a try…and then some…

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This just about killed my arms, shoulders, abs, back, legs….but now I know I can hold it for more than 4 minutes!

She countered with 6:03 and a smile on her face. THAT GIRL.

——

If you want in, just say so and hop to it! Use the #30daysofplank hash-tag, and tag me if you want to be held accountable ( @heatherdcRD – Instagram). Get up to 100 minutes however you choose to; start day 1 anytime; record your progress wherever you want. The point is just to challenge yourself, and see what you can do.

So far we have: Alex (@alexandramph), Kate, this guy and me.
You up to it, too?

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Trail Hog Half-Marathon: Comin’ Round to the Mountains

After completing two 10Ks on the trails in the past two months, and a little nudge from the coach to look up a half-marathon for September, we decided to step it up a notch. His race-searching skills are not to be messed with..

Of course my naive logic assumed that since that I’m trained beyond what I need for 13.1 miles, this should be no big thang! The plan was to race, not just run. Yep, I can do that, too!  The elevation chart didn’t look too bad, I mean, as far as trail races go….

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trailhog half elevation garmin

As you can see, things started off really well! And by well, I mean quickly going from a run to a walk, to an uphill crawl, to sweet relief that at least the worst incline was already done.

trailhoghalf_M1 trailhoghalf_H3

Once we finally got through the first few miles, and my ego was dust-covered but not yet destroyed, it was pretty smooth sailing. The first aid station greeted us right after mile 2. Usually I stick with my own water, but this day was already proving to be a no-messing-around adventure, so I happily took a big cup of icy H2O.

There was a 4.5 mile gap between this and the next life elixir.

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The half-marathon runners started 15 minutes before the 10k and 30 minutes before the 5K, but our loops mixed with theirs at one point. This is the biggest trail race we’ve run in California so far, which meant I finally got to enjoy the company and competition of fellow runners for most of the course (vs. just the beginning and/or end)!

We passed mile marker 5 / 12 and then 6 / 13, and I thought well at least I know exactly how the last 1.5 miles look! Then we split. As everyone else headed toward the Finish line, we turned to complete the next 6+ miles

trailhoghalf_H4

I spent most of the last half chasing, passing and then getting passed by the same handful of athletes. We all had different strengths on the course, and likely a few different goals (as it goes), but a similar stamina. I took advantage of every aid station, rationing my water and opting for the “Sports Mix!” for a little boost of electrolytes and flavor.

The hills throughout this last loop threw me off. ‘Scuse me, sirs, but according to that chart you should be shorter and less abrasive!  I assure you no hill feels short or friendly at this point, and I repeatedly tried to run up, only to stop, walk, and conserve the little energy + heart-capacity left. As the incline begins to soften and you can see it flatten out, that’s when I make the legs run again. There is no wasting a flat section, or adding any more time than is absolutely necessary between me and brunch!

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What I kept telling myself: the stretch between miles 12 – 13 isn’t too bad, you’ve already run it, you know what to expect!

What was actually true: by the time we actually hit those miles, and ran that stretch again, it all seemed different. The slight incline felt like a hill. The mile felt like two. The finish line couldn’t possible be close if my legs won’t move any faster than this.

That last picture is a shuffle up and around a corner; the mental battle script would read “move, food, brunch, water, move, food, MOVE”. The only reason I cared that I walked in the last half-mile is because once I slowed my momentum to get up the tiny inclines, it felt harder to walk than to run. So tricky, these trails!

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SWEET, SWEET, Finish Line. You never disappoint.

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13.4 miles – 2:08:43 – avg. 9:33 min/mile
2nd – F25-29

40th / 178 overall

There are a lot of great things about racing the trails vs. the roads, and high on that list is the food spread you see afterward. These athletes certainly know how to put the calories right back in with a buffet of sweet, salty and refreshing options – if you happen to leave a trail race hungry, that’s on you.

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Medals all around! Dan took 1st in his AG for his first trail 10K, and Mike snatched up 3rd in M30-35 along with 13th place overall. Fast dudes, unite!

As always, a huge thanks to the organizers and volunteers! Brazen Racing seems well-known in this ‘hood and put on a great event. We’ll be back!

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