Book Review: The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer


The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds covers the gamut of fitness topics, with conclusions drawn from the most current scientific studies available. Indeed, this book truly focuses on what we can learn from scientific research on the given topic.  Areas discussed include improved general health, how to exercise, stretch, and recover for maximum effectiveness, even how exercise affects the brain and body. The biggest take-aways for me were:

  • Exercise is essential for preventing weight gain/preserving weight loss.
    • an improved insulin response lasts 30-45 minutes post-workout, and protein intake increases that time frame slightly; extra calorie-burning ends when the workout does (the “after burn” is a myth!)
    • Regular endurance training will increase the body’s ability to use fat as fuel during exercise.
  • The negative effects of the aging process can often be remediated with physical activity.
  • Daily exercise does not counteract the negative effects of sitting for hours on end each day
    • try to be active for at least 2-3 minutes out of every 30, throughout the day
    •  accumulate approximately 150 minutes of light exercise per week for improved health.
  • Strength and power training improve overall performance in increase efficiency and inter-muscular coordination and neuromuscular function.  It may also be more effective at preventing disease than endurance activities.
  • Typically 1 rest day per week will be enough, and it can include light activity such as yoga.
  • Stretching must be done daily to see improvements, and increases will be small and will take months.

I found this book to be well-organized and not only useful, but also an interesting read.  When all is said and done, you have a big-picture view of how you can be more in-control of your health. I would suggest this book particularly for fitness professionals or those more interested in the scientific research on various fitness topics. It won’t play as nicely with leisure readers, probably, but is a worthwhile read nonetheless.


Four foods to avoid

Over the past year or so I’ve been studying exercise science and nutrition. I’ve read several books on nutrition, which I plan to review in a series of posts in the future. But here’s the nutritional bottom line that most sources agree on: There are four foods we should limit in our eating plans.  They are, in no particular order:

  • trans-fats – trans fats are one of the things that make processed and fast foods taste delicious.  That’s the only positive aspect of trans-fats! They raise LDL and reduce HDL levels, increasing your risk for heart disease. The US FDA has even put a 3 year time limit on their removal from processed foods because, they said, trans fats are “not generally recognized as safe”.  Look out for and avoid “partially hydrogenated oil” in your food. Stay tuned for my book reviews to find out more about cutting out trans-fats!
  • sugar/refined grains – cookies, cake, crackers, white bread, white sugar, chips, soda and even juices contain large amounts of added sugar.  (I’m including refined grains in this category because the starches in bread and the like are broken down quickly in your digestive tract and then enters your bloodstream as glucose.  This causes the spike in blood sugar and insulin levels.) In addition to putting you two steps closer to diabetes, added sugars are harmful to your liver and may contribute to development of cancer.  Yikes!  Also, it’s addictive – sugar causes a dopamine release in the reward center of our brain and affects how you eat for the long term.  So start by weeding all the refined carbs out of your eating plan, then cutting back on added sugars. It’s really hard to do – I know! It’s so hard to do! – but I am certain it will be worth it.
  • animal protein – there are many people who will disagree with me on this one but there is so much evidence to show that, over the long term, a plant-based diet is better than an animal meat-based diet. I’m not saying that meat, in general, is bad. What is bad is the long-term diet of primarily animal protein.  It increases the risk of cancer, especially eating a lot of processed meats. Stay tuned for my book reviews to learn more about how a plant-based diet can increase longevity!
  • sodium – too much sodium in Americans’ diets has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.  Fortunately for us, cutting out the processed foods and refined grains to reduce sugar will also remove a lot of the sodium in our food since processed and restaurant foods are some of the main culprits for both.

What are your thoughts?  Anything else you think should be listed here?

I am not a licensed medical care provider and represent that I have no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition.   You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.  You must consult your physician before beginning any exercise or diet program.

I’m on a Quest…

I heard about these protein bars by Quest Nutrition from and finally decided to try them out. I bought a box of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor for $24.99 from


My primary goal was to find a protein bar that will also serve as a meal replacement bar.  Basically, I think I don’t get enough protein but I’m also trying to lose weight, so I’d like to eat a protein bar for breakfast or lunch.  In the past I had been eating CLIF Builder’s bars, so I’ll compare the Quest Bars to those.

These bars claim to be all natural (i.e., clean) and low carb. The Cooke Dough bars contain 190 calories each and 70 of those from fat, with 8g total, 3g saturated.  There are 21g carbs, with 17g listed as dietary fiber.  Note that there’s some controversy over the fiber source because its made in a factory rather than being plant-derived, and because the body treats it like sugar. Check out this article from Me and My Diabetes for more information about that issue. Quest Nutrition is very up front about the ingredients in their bars – here’s the ingredient list from their website.  The ingredient list is short, but the proteins are from whey/milk proteins so these bars may not work for people who are lactose intolerant.

The best part is the taste – the bars I have tried are really yummy!  Honestly, the Cookie Dough flavor could be your dessert, they’re so good! I ate one for lunch yesterday, and I didn’t get hungry again for about 3-4 hours.  These could definitely serve as a meal replacement bar for breakfast or lunch, as long as the sweetness isn’t overwhelming for you.

Depending on where you buy them, they’re about $2 per bar.  You can find them on, or at GNC stores or site.

I also LOVED the box!  How motivational is this?


So how do these compare to my old standby, Builder’s Bars? In comparing them to the Cookies ‘N Cream flavor from CLIF, they are smaller in size (only 60g vs. 68 g in CLIF) and lower in calories (190 in the Quest vs. 270 in CLIF) but have the same number of calories in fat. Total fat content is the same in both bars, but the Quest bars only have 3g saturated fat whereas the CLIF bars have 5g.  Quest bars claim 21g of protein vs. 20g in the Builder’s bar.  Finally, the total carbs are significantly less in the Quest bars, at only 21g, versus 30g in the CLIF bar.

My final verdict is that I’ll definitely buy them again. They taste great and I am OK with the ingredients.  If you are comfortable with the ingredients, I’d recommend these to you, too.  To meet my current health goals, I would choose these over the Builder’s bars because they have less calories, fat, etc., but they also kept me satisfied for the amount of time I needed.

Have you tried Quest Nutrition Protein bars? What do you think of them?

The War on Wintertime Dryness

My skin loves the summertime but hates winter.  During the winter its itchy and sometimes red, and always looks dry and ashy.  So here’s what I do to fight dry skin and other wintertime body issues:

  1. Drink lots of water.  This works from the inside out and, yes, it does help! Also, eat foods rich in Omega-3s, which help your body replace natural skin oils.
  2. Moisturize daily.  I apply olive oil (EVOO) nightly before bed or after a shower when pores are open.  For some people olive oil may be too heavy. Almond and jojoba oil are popular alternatives.
  3. Use a fragrance/irritant-free soap.  I highly recommend Dr. Bronner’s organic castile soaps.
  4. Wear gloves when going outside or washing dishes, and apply lotion to your hands frequently.
  5. Use lip balm daily. Try Dr. Bronner’s organic lip or body balm.
  6. For your hair, use a leave-in conditioner at least once a wee, and stop washing your hair everyday.  I wash my hair every other day, and day #2 is usually an up-do or ponytail.  For guys with buzzed or short hair, I would try just rinsing your scalp and hair under warm water daily, and skip the shampoo.
  7. Run a humidifier in your bedroom, if possible.  Mariah Carey swears by this trick to protect her voice.

What tricks have you found work for you?

Jumping on the natural personal care products bandwagon

A few years ago I decided that my skin no longer liked the mass market personal care products I had been buying for years.  I was in my mid-20s but still had the occasional zit and dry skin, among other issues.  Also at that time various media outlets were beginning to expose the manufacturers’ evil plans to con unsuspecting consumers into buying products we thought were really good for us, but actually had some weird ingredients in them.  Over the years I’ve tried quite a few brands, and here’s what I can recommend to you:

  • Dr. Bronner’s – for all your skin care needs!  Ignore the weird messages on the bottle if they make you uncomfortable and focus on the way the soap smells and lathers (without using sulfates!)  I use their bar soaps in the shower, and lotion for after shower.   The lavender and almond are my favorites.  I can also vouch for the lip and body balms, as I keep one of those in my purse, nightstand, bathroom drawer, etc. We use the liquid citrus orange to bathe the family dog, then the citrus conditioning hair rinse as her “conditioner”.  Citrus is a natural flea repellant, and I’ve noticed that the soaps don’t dry out her skin the way pet-store products will.

Dr. Bronner's lotion, at the office

Burt's Bees lotion, in purse
Burt’s Bees lotion, in purse
  • Organix – okay, okay… this is kinda my cheat.  I really like the way their shampoo and conditioner smells, especially the Coconut Milk and the Brazilian Keratin Therapy.  Actually, the fragrance is one of the major reasons EWG’s Skin Deep database rates these products a moderate hazard.  I use the Coconut Milk line of products, plus the Brazilian Keratin Therapy shampoo and conditioner on evenings after I’ve put curl into my normally straight hair. I figure it could be worse…
  • Physician’s Formula – these products boast 100% natural origin, with no parabens.  I love their mascara, and currently use the lash boosting version.   I’ve also tried the basic version, and it was great, too.  The tinted moisturizer was a bit heavy for me, but other than that worked well. I haven’t tried their new CC cream or mascara, but probably will once I can find it at a local retailer.  If you’re in the FoodBabe Army, you’ll be pleased to know that Physician’s Formula mascara is also one of her picks.
  • Olive oil (EVOO) and coconut oil – keep one container of each in your pantry for cooking and one in the bathroom.  These make great makeup removers and body moisturizers.  I use the olive oil + a bit of lavender oil in the winter, and the coconut oil in the summer since it’s lighter and makes tan skin look amazing.

To make the switch easier, do it progressively. Maybe you can pick one product at a time to change. Some will be easier to change than others; for some reason my hair products were the hardest for me to give up.  After several years of trying I still haven’t been able to convince my husband to stop using his same old deodorant and body wash!  In my opinion, if it really pains you to give up one thing you should not beat yourself up over it.  If possible, compromise to a healthier product and then don’t beat yourself up over it.  The goal for me was to eliminate as many environmental toxins as possible. In our modern world there is no way you are going to rid yourself of all toxins, since some of the worst are in our environment (VOCs, PCBs, and radioactivity).  You do have a choice on what personal care products you buy, so make the choice to steer clear of the ones with phthalates and parabens.  And remember, you vote with your dollars, so buying healthier products means more of those will be produced for us to use!

When making your choices, be sure to check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Safety Database, Skin Deep.  They rate products based on their ingredients.  The more research the do on this subject the less you’ll have to reference the database before buying, and eventually you’ll be able to flip the bottle over to the ingredients label and know whether its OK or not.

The major things you should steer clear of are: parabens and formaldehyde, sulfate-based detergents, propylene glycol/polyethylene glycol, synthetic dyes (anything with FD&C preceding it) and “fragrances“.

Resources: EWG

Fitness trends for 2014

Some of these you may have already been participating in, but some might be a new thing for you to try.  Health and fitness is a popular new year’s resolution for many people, so here are some fitness trends that I think will be popular for this year:

  1. HIIT
  2. Functional Fitness
  3. CrossFit
  4. Yoga
  5. Wearable fitness technologies

Let’s start with #5.  This arena is just exploding right now!!  I guess manufacturers were trying to get their devices on the market before the big shopping holidays and just in time for the new year’s resolution surge. You have probably already seen the Nike+ Fuelband and the FitBit but what about the Misfit Shine, the Jawbone or the Garmin Viviofit?  There are so many options with various features, it could be hard to choose.  Shape magazine recommends that you “…be sure to do your homework before you buy—some pricier devices might offer more features than you really need to reach your goals so to save money, skip the ones with tools you’ll never use.

#4 is yoga, which is increasing in popularity as it has in years past.  This one’s a no-brainer – it’s an excellent way to stretch and strengthen your body.  If you have never taken a yoga class you may think it looks easy, but take a power yoga class and then see how you feel!

#3, Cross Fit, became wildly popular in 2013 and I think 2014 holds much of the same.  If you are planning to try it out this year, get the OK from your doctor then find a local class.  I’m emphasizing that you should make sure you get the OK from your physician because CrossFit is known to be quite hard on the body. And, be careful, because CrossFit and other boot camp-type classes are addictive!

I’ve listed functional fitness as #2 because this is a growing trend I’ve heard a lot about lately, and I think it’s the awesome sauce. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, functional fitness, or functional training, is working out so you can be stronger for real life situations.  According to the MayoClinic, “Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities…” This might include picking up or carrying your small children or carrying multiple bags of groceries.  The idea is to strengthen your core plus major muscles in the upper and lower body.  You’ll work these various muscles and their corresponding joints in conjunction so that you’re prepared for them to function optimally in common, everyday situations.  This program has its roots in rehabilitation, but I think it can work well for everyone regardless of their age or current fitness level.  It will make everyday activities easier and reduce your risk of being injured.

And #1, HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training, is another trend that began gaining popularity months ago but I think will garner more attention in 2014.  The principle behind HIIT is that you’ll reap more benefits from quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by a short rest period (which is barely enough to catch your breath), before beginning the next burst.  Do that for 8 sessions of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off and you have done Tabata.  If you can do HIIT 3 to 4 days a week for a few weeks, you’ll see significant gains in your aerobic and anaerobic systems.  I have done various versions of HIIT from 2 rounds of Tabata during a boot camp class to a full 45 minute HIIT-specific class, and they were all really intense but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards was very rewarding.  The great thing about HIIT is the variety of exercises you can include – you could do all cardiovascular exercises, or mix it up with weight-bearing exercises.

That’s my list! What new fitness trend will you be trying this year?

How much water should you drink every day?

When it comes to drinking “enough” water, are you like me? I go through spurts where I’m particularly conscious about drinking water and mostly water.  I have a glass of water at my desk, or even carry an empty water bottle through airport security so I can fill it before I reach the gate.  Then, sometimes days will go by when I don’t even think my water consumption and I usually end up drinking very little.

So here’s what I’ve noticed about myself: When I drink more water I feel better, especially during long runs or exercise sessions.  I am certain that it’s important for me to hydrate before a run longer than 5 miles, ideally beginning the day before and continuing through the night (yes, that means I get up a lot to pee and then drink some more during the night) and right up until the run starts.  If I do that, I usually don’t have to carry something to hydrate with during my run.

Experts agree with my findings, apparently.  It takes an hour for consumed water to reach your muscles, so if you’re active every day you really should be hydrating throughout each day.  Experts disagree on how much people water we should drink everyday but I’m guessing that each individual should be able to determine the ideal amount based on the pee test (you should drink enough so that your pee is clear. Nuclear yellow pee in the toilet means you’re not consuming enough!) and just how they feel in general.  If you go out for a run and get cramps, you probably didn’t hydrate enough in the hours preceding the run!  Also, if you’re getting hunger pangs often and can’t figure out why, try drinking a bit of water before grabbing a snack.  I’ve read from multiple sources that the body will send hunger signals when dehydrated.  Your metabolism (and other cellular functions) also operates more efficiently when you’re hydrated.

Also, we’ve been told for years that coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks are diuretics and therefore dehydrate you, but apparently that’s not true unless you’re over-doing it on those drinks.  That being said, I think there are plenty of reasons to avoid caffeine, anyway, but that’s another post for another time.

To sum up: have your coffee first thing in the morning, if you must, or your tea or milk or OJ, and continue hydrating with water for the rest of the day.  Water is awesome in so many ways!  It’s refreshing and versatile (hot or cold, by itself or spiced up with some lemon), and it’s free at most restaurants. Go on, be a cheap date!!