Spaghetti and Meatballs

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If you’re like me, no matter how long you’ve been eating Paleo, there will always been meals that you’ll miss or get random cravings for. Hopefully, you’re able to find a Paleo version of whatever that meal is. I probably get those cravings more often than most because I am surrounded by all different kinds of food while working at the fire station. My shift has a vegan, a human garbage disposal, a traditional meat and potatoes guy, and me – the Paleo guy. The complete randomness of meals that are eaten here on a daily basis is quite impressive, but that’s another story!

Today my random craving was spaghetti and meatballs. Random, right? Luckily, I have had his craving and knew exactly what I was making for dinner: Spaghetti Squash and turkey meatballs. If you’ve never had it before, spaghetti squash is very tasty and is a great substitute for pasta of any kind. Here’s how I made it:

Spaghetti Squash and Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 pound of lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • Pasta sauce (homemade or jarred – just be careful of the ingredients)
  • 1 cup diced mixed vegetables (optional)

Instructions:

  • Start by cutting the spaghetti squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and stringy parts and place cut side down in a 13″ x 9″ baking dish filled with 1/2-inch of water. Place in a pre-heated 350* oven and bake, uncovered for 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix together the ground turkey, onion, and Italian seasoning. Form the ground meat into 2-inch balls.
  • Heat the coconut oil over medium head in a large saute pan and add the meatballs. Cook over medium heat until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side (Don’t worry, they’ll end up looking more like meat-tetrahedrons rather than meat-balls, but they’ll still taste great!).
  • When the meatballs are cooked through, add in any vegetables (if desired), and cook until soft.
  • Add the pasta sauce and continue to cook over medium-low heat until warm.
  • Remove the squash from the oven and move to a plate or cutting board with a pair of tongs, placing face up. shred the squash with a fork from side to side. This will cause the pasta-like squash to shred like spaghetti noodles.
  • Top the squash with the sauce and meatballs and enjoy!

*Note: Another method to cook the squash is to cover the squash with plastic wrap and microwave, cut side up, for seven minutes.

If you’ve never had spaghetti squash, give it a try. I guarantee you’ll be surprised! It is a perfect substitue for pasta and will help you stay on track when you get a craving. Here’s some more information on spaghetti squash

What other substitutes do you use for those cravings? I would love to know what else I should be trying.

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Don’t Get Discouraged

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After completing a grueling 4 minutes of 13.5, I got the opportunity to speak with a couple of my gym’s members who are also competing in our six week Paleo challenge. After four weeks, it seems like people are really starting to get the hang of the Paleo Diet and are getting past the constant hunger, decreased energy, and crankiness that comes along with the body changing from a glucose fueled lifestyle to a fat and protein fueled way of life.

Just as I did when I started the Paleo Diet, quite a few people are paying attention to the scale as they track their progress during the challenge. For some, the changes seen are spectacular and increase their motivation to continue push past the cravings and stick to the recommendations made by Robb Wolf when he visited our gym. For a few others, and probably quite a few more than I am aware of, the scale is a source of frustration and discouragement.

Changes on the scale when doing any sort of “diet” is a societal norm that has been heavily weighted. If we diet, we want to see changes on the scale. If we don’t see changes on the scale, then the diet must not be working, right? Wrong! In talking with one of the females participating in our Paleo Challenge, she was quite discouraged that she had only lost five pounds in the first four weeks. She said she was very disappointed with the five pounds considering other people have lost more than fifteen pounds.

As we talked, I started asking her questions about how she felt, she said she no longer had the constant hunger feeling. I asked her how her quality of sleep had been, she said she felt quite rested and energized during the day. I asked her how her strength was compared to before starting the challenge, she admitted she had made gains in her lifts. Finally, I asked her how her clothes were fitting, and she said almost all of her workout clothes were baggy.

The point of this story is that the scale shouldn’t matter, especially when starting on the Paleo Diet. pay attention to yourself, how you feel, how your clothes fit, and how what you do in the gym progresses. Muscle weighs more than fat! As you lost fat, you’re probably building muscle, so your fat loss isn’t going to show on the scale. The most important thing you should pay attention to with any diet is yourself. How do you feel? Don’t get discouraged because you didn’t lose as much weight as others, keep your progress in perspective, pay attention to yourself and how you feel and stick with it. The changes will come soon enough!

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I think we have all experienced frustrations like this. What have you done to get past this or any other challenges you’ve faced?

Butternut squash and Lamb Hash

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I think we have all had a time where we forget to pre-plan meals, or neglect to. I do it even though I have written about the importance of pre-planning! I found myself in exactly this position last week while at work. Because I was in class at the University all day and had to go straight to the fire station, I wasn’t able to take food to work with me. Of course, right when I got to work a seemingly “slow” day at in the fire district became relatively busy and I found myself running a few calls on the ambulance back to back. By the time I got back to the station it was after 8:00pm and I realized I had no food for dinner and didn’t want to go to the store. Hoping to find at least a salad I could eat in the refrigerator, I was able to find quite a lot more!IMG_3963The shift that worked before me had left some roast leg of lamb and I also found some asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and butternut squash. It would have been easy to throw the lamb in the microwave, and cook up maybe the asparagus or the squash, but I decided to throw it all together and make a butternut squash and leg of lamb hash. Here’s how I made it, but first, just remember that by getting creative, with proportions, variations, spices, or cooking methods, you can take random refrigerator leftovers and turn them into quite a tasty dish!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cup butternut squash, diced
  • 3/4 cup diced zucchini,
  • 3/4 cup diced yellow squash
  • 4 asparagus spears, cut into 1 inch long pieces
  • 2 cups leg of lamb, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • italian seasoning, to taste

 

  • Start off by sauteing the onion in a medium saute pan with the coconut oil over medium-low heat.
  • When the onions are translucent, add the butternut squash and cook until almost cooked through (approximately 10 minutes).

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  • When the squash is lightly browned on all sides and almost cooked through, add in the remaining vegetables and season to taste with the salt and pepper.IMG_3967
  • Add in the cubed lamb and cook for about 5 minutes, seasoning to taste and enjoy!

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As you can see, this is a lot more appetizing than microwaved leftovers and some vegetables. We subconsciously deem something as being more tasty if it is presented pretty, so taking the time to add some variation to your meals, even if it is leftovers, can help keep you out of a rut and allow you to experiment a bit in the kitchen. So the next time you are faced with a leftovers and no meal plan, get creative and invent your own dish!

We all know it helps to get ideas from others, so share your thoughts! What is one meal you make out of leftovers?

Pre-Planning Paleo Meals

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Everyone knows procrastination is not a good thing. Whether it’s a school assignments, work tasks, or home projects, we have all learned from experience that waiting until the last minute does not make things easier for yourself. I have learned that because Paleo meals can be quite labor intensive, preplanning your meals can make things a lot easier. And by now, we all know, when it’s easier to prepare a meal, it’s less tempting to go out to eat and settle for an unscheduled cheat meal. There’s lots of information on the internet about preplanning meals. One of my personal favorites is an article on Robb Wolf’s website titled: Paleo Diet: Cooking a Week’s Worth of Meals. This article talks about some great ideas for getting your meals planned and even partially cooked ahead of time.

All Natural Turkey Chili

Pre-Made Paleo’s All Natural Turkey Chili

Another great idea, especially if you’re really short on time or find it difficult to cook for just yourself, is to buy premade Paleo meals. My home CrossFit Gym recently started selling premade Paleo meals that are quite affordable. Made by Pre-made Paleo, the meals are prepared at their facility, and shipped frozen to a local host. Their website lists Local-Hosts, grocery stores, gyms, and other businesses that sell the pre-made meals and allow customers to purchase meals from the website and get them shipped to the host for free. Meals cost anywhere between $9 and $17, depending on the portion sizes and options you choose. Pre-Made Paleo’s website also has helpful instructional videos on how to prepare your meals.

So whether you decide to prepare your meals ahead of time, or to buy pre-made paleo meals, don’t let your procrastination get the best of you. And of course, share any and all ways of preparing your meals ahead of time with the rest of us.

(Photo Credit: Pre-Made Paleo)

Paleo on the go

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For those of you just getting into the swing of things, Paleo may seem a lot more difficult than it actually is. You’re probably hungry every few hours, dealing with cravings, and maybe even feeling like you’re stuck eating the same meal day after day. As I said in my previous post, Paleo Pointers, you need to be creative. This weekend I am taking the Level I course in San Jose and, because of my traveling, I had to get a little creative myself. Maintaining your diet while on the road can be difficult for anyone. Maintaining Strict Paleo, during a six-week Paleo Challenge, can be even more difficult. This is why I want to share some of what I brought with me so that I can stay on track, without starving myself.

  • Beef Jerky: Not long after I started Paleo, I found a Paleo Beef Jerkybeef jerky recipe that is absolutely amazing. A London Broil steak works quite well for this recipe. If you put the meat in the freezer for about an hour, it will be frozen enough to cut thin enough that it will work for jerky. Another option is to use thin sliced carne asada meat, found at most grocery stores. This meat is already sliced thin, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of slicing the meat thin.
  • Grilled Chicken Breast: For this trip I wanted to be able to grab some protein on the go, without needing to have a full meal. I decided to slide a chicken breast in thirds, lengthwise, and grill it up. I seasoned it with a small amount of garlic salt, pepper, and italian seasoning and after cooking it, put it in a plastic bag in the cooler.
  • Fruit: If you are including fruit in your diet, this is definitely a great option for eating on the go. Some of my favorites include an apple with almond butter, celery with almond butter and some raisins, and bananas.
  • Trail Mix: Again, if you’re including fruit, or nuts, in your diet, you can throw together some nuts and dried fruit and you have yourself a great grab on the go Paleo snack.

These are just a couple of options for snacks that I brought with me this weekend. There are plenty of other options, but almost all of them require some preparing your food at home, rather than stopping on the side of the road at a fast food restaurant. So now you know what I brought with me this weekend. What do you take with you for Paleo snacks?

Paleo Pointers

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Roasted Leg of Lamb and Garlic Mashed Cauliflower topped with pan drippings

Roasted Leg of Lamb & Garlic Mashed Cauliflower topped with pan drippings

The CrossFit gym I go to is starting a six week Paleo challenge this week. It’s great to see the people that are giving Paleo a try for the first time and to see how excited they are. A couple weeks ago Robb Wolf stopped in and gave an amazing talk about the benefits to Paleo, which I think helped get a lot of people very motivated and interested in giving Paleo a shot. Two of our coaches, Chandler Walker and Steph Bentley, is another amazing asset our athletes, and really the entire community, have who will gladly answer questions and provide helpful tips to them.

Besides the basic Paleo do’s and don’ts, I wanted to share with any of the CrossFit Sparks Elite members who are participating in the challenge, and anyone else who reads this, five helpful things that helped me get through my first Paleo challenge as well as everyday life.

  • Don’t get stuck in a rut! If you eat the same thing every day, you’re guaranteed to get bored of the same flavor. I can take the same five main ingredients and make over a dozed different meals, it’s all about proportions, spices, and herbs. Get creative and you’re more likely to stick with the challenge
  • Snacks, snacks, snacks. One of my biggest challenges when I started Paleo was feeling like I was hungry every two hours. Make sure you have snacks available for you to eat, but also make sure they’re healthy snacks. You don’t want to end up eating nuts by the handful, because the calories they hold add up quickly! Snack items I like to keep around the house include beef jerky, sliced turkey deli meat, small amounts of fruit, and leftovers.

    Paleo Pizza

    Paleo Pizza

  • Find a Paleo version of your favorite dish. The number of people talking about Paleo on the Internet is quite impressive. Another advantage is that many of these people love to eat and love to cook. If you like pasta, there’s spaghetti squash. If its mashed potatoes you love, there’s sweet potatoes. If its pizza you crave, there’s almond meal crust recipes that are amazing. Whatever your favorite dish is, you’re likely to find a Paleo version somewhere.
  • If you cheat, don’t cheat yourself! I already wrote about my view of cheat meals in a previous post. If you do decide to have a cheat meal, make it that, a meal. Not two meals, not a day, and definitely not multiple days in a row.
  • Eat to lose weight. Just because you’re doing a Paleo challenge, and we took measurements and weight, which we will compare to your new self in six weeks, doesn’t mean you should be eating minimal amounts of food. Paleo is about fueling your body for performance. Your body needs fuel to function efficiently and healthily. When you eat food regularly throughout the day, you keep your metabolism running. Eating breakfast within thirty minutes of getting up gives your metabolism a kick start for the rest of they day. Eating within thirty minutes of finishing a workout gives your body the fuel it needs to rebuild muscle. If you don’t eat in the morning, your metabolism is slower throughout the day, and if you don’t eat after working out, your body turns to muscle stores in your body to get the fuel it needs.

There you have it. Those are just a few helpful tips to get you started, or keep you going. If you’re participating in our challenge, good luck! I’m excited to see how everyone progresses. If you aren’t participating with CrossFit Sparks Elite, I wish you the best of luck with Paleo. Everyone, please share any other tips you have so that we can all learn from each other!

Grilled Ribeye, Roasted Butternut Squash, and Kale Salad

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Grilled Ribeye, Butternut Squash, and Kale SaladI have been getting asked a lot to post recipes, so here’s three! This meal is very close to what I had as my first Paleo dinner when I started The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge, which made me realize, I could eat delicious food, and it is still Paleo. I think oftentimes people add so many spices, marinades, or sauces to meat that the actual flavor of the meat is lost. Now that I’ve been eating Paleo for over eight months, I have definitely come to realize that meat tastes good, there is no need to load on tons and tons of spices. OK, enough of the rambling, here’s what I made for dinner last night and how I made it!

Grilled Rib-Eye Steak

Ingredients:

  • Rib-Eye Steaks
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper

About fifteen minutes before putting the steak on the grill, remove it from the refrigerator. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and pepper on each side of the steak. Grill on medium-high heat, turning once. Plain, simple, delicious!

Roasted Butternut SquashRoasted Butternut Squash

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Butternut Squash, cubed
  • 1 Apple, cored and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons Coconut Oil, melted
  • 3 tablespoons Honey
  • 1/4 cup Almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash and apple in a 9″ x 9″ baking dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes (until almost cooked through). Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Remove the squash from the oven and add the honey mixture, stir to coat the squash and apples. Return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from oven and serve.

Kale Saladphoto-3

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Kale, finely chopped           **See note below
  • 1 Lemon, halved
  •  1/4 cup Pine Nuts
  • 1 Avocado

Place the kale in a large mixing bowl, add the juice from the lemon. Cube the avocado and add to the kale. Using your hands, smash the avocado so it coats the kale and mixes well with the lemon juice. Top with the pine nuts, serve chilled.

**Note: Because Kale is very fibrous, remove the stems and the larger ribs before chopping for the salad. The smaller you can chop the kale, the better. As you can see in the picture of my salad, the kale is less than 1/2″ in my salad.

Give this a try! It’s a great meal that will make you realize that Paleo isn’t just able salad and lean meat. Let me know what you think!

To cheat or not to cheat…. What a silly question!

I think one of the biggest reasons why people who are following a specific diet don’t maintain it is because of the strict rules that are placed on how, what, and when you eat. Whether it’s counting calories, counting points, or avoiding certain foods, it can be very difficult to maintain while trying to live a normal life. It would be easy for me to avoid non-Paleo foods if I had an allergy to them, but I don’t so staying away from them can be difficult at times.

Like I said in an earlier post, the first two weeks of my Paleo experience was full of cravings. I wanted just about everything I couldn’t have, and I wanted lots of it. That has since passed, but there are times when I cheat. I think there are some very good benefits to cheating, if it is done the right way, and there can be some drawbacks if don’t the wrong way. First, allowing yourself the ability to cheat means you can go out to dinner with friends to a restaurant that may not be exactly “paleo friendly” and eat to be satiated. This obviously doesn’t mean you should have all-you-can-eat pasta and breadsticks and ice cream, although that does sound kind of good sometimes. You don’t have to get the worst thing on the menu! Most restaurants have items on their menu that are mainly Paleo, with maybe a side that is not. Go for one of those instead.

Another reason to cheat is so you don’t cheat more often. A number of my friends have cheat days, mostly Sundays for some reason, where they allow themselves to eat whatever they want. Granted, most of the time their meals are more Paleo than not, they will still have whatever sounds good. Scheduling a day, or even just a meal, like this gives you something to look forward to. If you know, for example, that Sunday’s dinner is the meal you are allowed to get whatever you want, you’ll be less likely to cheat other times during the week. A good way to make the cheat meal even better for you is to decide ahead of time what it is that you’re going to have ahead of time, and stick with that plan.

So go ahead, cheat! But do it in a way that doesn’t throw all your hard work out the window. Do it in a way that makes sticking to Paleo, or whatever diet you are following, manageable. Make a plan and stick to it! Consider your cheat meal as a reward for all the hard work you do to maintain your diet throughout the rest of the week.

Do you have a specific cheat meal or plan? Share it below, you never know who may have an idea you like or whose idea may work for you.

Progress in Perspective

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One of my favorite things about CrossFit is the community aspect. A lot of that has to do with the gym and the fact that, for the most part, I am working out with the same core group of people every day. I know for a fact that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this sort of situation. Some gyms, whether it be because of the mentality of the people working out there or the atmosphere that the ownerships fosters and allows to take hold, do not have those core groups who push and encourage each other day in and day out. I am lucky enough to have an amazing gym with amazing people. I’ll leave that topic for another post….

My point is, that if you’re fortunate enough to have that core group of people around you every day, you’re very lucky! Not only have you gotten to know new people and seem them become stronger and progress in their fitness goals, they have been by your side to help you achieve yours. While that is all well and good, it may, unfortunately, cause you to lose track of how well you are doing overall. I am sure this is more applicable to those of us who are in the middle of the pack, and not necessarily the athlete who is doing the WODs at Rx or above and still blowing everyone else out of the water, but then again, everyone has their weaknesses.

The point I am trying to get across is that even though so many of the things we do in CrossFit are based on personal bests, we all tend to measure ourselves up to the person working out next to us. Sure, this can and often is a good thing. If you can lift more than me, or are faster than me, you can bet I am going to do my best to keep up with you. We need to remind ourselves that our progress should be measure against ourselves, and that the people around us are really only a tool we can use to make ourselves better. I know, it’s easier said than done.

I, myself, was reminded on this a couple days ago when one of the regulars I work out with said to me after we finished a metcon, “I just need to work on my endurance, you are all so much faster than me.” My response to her was to think about where she was when she started CrossFit a few months ago, and compare what she had just finished to her former self. She admitted that when she started she could barely run 400 meters, and now she does that in a warmup without even thinking about it. As we talked about keeping things in perspective and comparing today, to your previous self, whether it be a day, a week, a year, or a decade ago, that her frustration visibly turned into pride.

Sure, comparing ourselves to one another is great, and it is probably inevitable too, but it should only be done in order to push yourself. The only real comparison you should make is with yourself. So the next time you get frustrated because you can’t connect double unders, or you can’t do more than a couple handstand push ups at a time, or you are the last person completing the WOD, put it in perspective. Think about where you’re at now compared to the last time you did that WOD or what you were able to do a few months ago. Keep things in perspective and be proud of what you can do.

Lightheaded after weightlifting? Here’s why…

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I am sure we all understand why we experience increased heart and respiratory rates when we work out. Oxygen is metabolized in the cells when muscles work, which causes an increased demand for oxygen so we breathe faster and our heart pumps faster to supply our body with the needed oxygen. What may not be so commonly understood is the reason why we get light-headed during or right after a heavy lift. Understanding why this happens can help an athlete recover from this feeling quicker and potentially prevent your friends from being able to post an embarrassing video of you passing out right after a lift. Funny to watch, but not funny if it happens to you.

Our respiratory drive, among other things, is controlled by the vagus nerve (the tenth cranial nerve). This is why we don’t have to think when to breathe, our body does it automatically. While there are many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, we stimulate it when we take a deep breath and hold it throughout a movement, which is what we are supposed to do! Taking a deep breath, and tightening your core muscles during a lift is very similar to a technique used by medical professionals to slow the heart rate down called the Valsalva maneuver, which is used to treat elevated heart rates (supraventricular tachycardia). Both the Valsalva maneuver and holding your breath and tightening your core muscles during a lift, stimulate the vagus nerve, which tells the heart to slow down.

After the lift, we experience the light-headedness because the decreased heart rate makes it difficult for the brain to get the required amount of blood. This is similar to a vasovagal episode, where the brain does not get the necessary blood flow, and as a result we experience tunnel vision, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), light-headedness, and sometimes a temporary loss of consciousness. Luckily, once on the ground, the heart is no longer working to pump blood against gravity up to your brain, so the necessary amount of blood flow is restored to the brain, allowing you to regain consciousness.

So how do we prevent it? Obviously exhaling throughout a lift is not an option, if we want to maintain a solid, stable core, but one way to minimize the symptoms is to get yourself low to the ground. This accomplishes two things, first, if you do end up passing out, you’re closer to the ground so you don’t have to fall as far, and secondly, you decrease the height from your heart to your brain, allowing blood to get to your brain easier. Personally, I usually place my hands on my knees and bend my legs a bit so if I do feel as if I am going to pass out, I can simply sit down.

I hope this brief, and hopefully easy to understand explanation helps you understand what is going on inside your body and prevents you from ending up in a video on the internet. Next time you lift heavy and feel light-headed, decrease the distance your heart has to pump blood to your brain by getting low and you’ll feel better in a few seconds. Let me know what you think, what methods you use, or any other questions you might have by leaving a comment below.