By Steve Edwards

There are a lot of contradicting ideas—many of them misconceptions—about the best way to reshape your body. This is largely because there are a lot of trainers out there, each seemingly espousing a different fitness philosophy. In this article, we'll examine an assortment of training strategies, bust a myth or two, and explain why interval training is generally the most efficient way to improve your fitness level.

Having just launched TurboFire, we dusted off this article that was first published when INSANITY came out. Since most Beachbody programs use some type of interval training, the information we lay out here is also a perfect lead-in to TurboFire. We'll go into more depth about that program next week. Consider this Part I, your introductory course on interval workouts.

What is interval training?

Basically, you're interval training any time your workout includes a set where you perform at your maximum level for a given amount of time, followed by a lower-intensity set; this sequence is then repeated to achieve a cumulative effect. An interval can be a set of curls, a dance move, or anything that tires you out over a given length of time. Intervals can be short and hard, or long and easy, but they're all intervals, just as long as there's some cumulative effect—you get more tired as you go. All interval workouts aren't the same, though; the duration and intensity of the intervals are what define the workout.

Conversely, aerobic training is when you maintain a steady output at a low-intensity level over the course of the workout. Beachbody does offer some workouts that do this, but they're generally either for recovery or for the second daily workout of a doubles program. This type of workout helps your aerobic efficiency, but does very little for changing your body.

The myth of the fat-burning zone

It's impossible to approach this topic without debunking the term "fat-burning zone." You often hear uninformed trainers recommend that their clients reduce the intensity of their workouts so their bodies will burn more fat. In reality, all these trainers are doing is lowering the overall effectiveness of their clients' programs.

Here's a quick explanation of the fat-burning zone. At an aerobic pace (see above), your body utilizes stored body fat as fuel to save its preferred fuel (stored blood glycogen) for more pressing matters. This sounds great, because you're burning body fat. However, you're burning it at a very slow rate.

During higher-intensity work, your body turns to a limited supply of blood glycogen (often called blood sugar) for energy. While your body is burning glycogen rather than fat during this more intense period, it's also breaking down more body tissue. "Breakdown" is a negative-sounding word for a good thing, because while it's happening, your body produces more hormones and increases its metabolism to repair the breakdown. As the tissue repairs itself, it builds more muscle, so the next time you do a stressful workout it won't be so taxing. This process of adapting to intense exercise is where your body makes the most rapid change.

Continually building on this process is called "progressive overload." By continually adapting to stress, then adding more stress, either with weight, speed, or intensity, you increase your body's fitness so it's actually burning body fat for fuel as you rest. Interval workouts should be a key component in every phase of your training.

Techie science made simple

Asked what separates serious athletes from recreational athletes, author and fitness trainer Steve Ilg replies, "Intervals." But because "intervals" is an umbrella term for training that targets many different energy systems, Steve's answer is somewhat cryptic and requires further explanation. At the same time, however, it's pretty accurate. Recreational athletes like to train within their comfort zones. Interval training, regardless of the targeted intensity level, always forces you out of your comfort zone. And you have to be willing to leave your comfort zone if you want to see significant changes in your fitness level.

Interval levels can change dramatically. For example, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts are very short, sometimes lasting only seconds, and are completely anaerobic. Marathon runners will often run for one- or two-mile intervals, which can take many minutes and are obviously somewhat aerobic. The reason for the varying intensity of intervals is to train different energy systems in the body. These are defined by terms you may have heard, like anaerobic threshold (AT), VO2/max, etc., but we don't need to go into that level of detail yet. For our purposes here, we'll give you the "101"-level course in what you need to know:
  1. LSD. Not the hippie drug from the 60s, but rather "long slow distance." This isn't an interval; it's a term you're especially likely to hear if you know or are a runner or cyclist. The purpose of LSD is base-level aerobic conditioning. As I said above, this approach isn't really applicable for making significant body changes, unless you do it for a very long time. Yet many trainers still recommend it. I think this is primarily because their clients won't complain about doing 30 minutes of easy exercise.
  2. Sports-specific intervals. These can be anything, like the two-mile example above. Interval training exists for all athletic endeavors. Since it's targeted for sports performance, we won't discuss it. You'll learn plenty about it when you join a local group to train for a triathlon, or other activity or event.
  3. Weight training intervals. All weight training could be considered interval training, but traditionally, you rest so long between sets you don't get a cumulative effect. All Beachbody weight training is done interval-style, which we call circuit training. During these workouts, you move from body part to body part without much rest between sets, so the workouts don't just target muscle building, but also improve your cardiovascular fitness. P90X and ChaLEAN Extreme are good examples of this kind of training.

    What defines these circuits is your targeted number of repetitions. A low target using more weight will create muscular hypertrophy, or growth. A higher number of reps limits muscle growth (although you do still get some muscle growth) and gives you more cardiovascular improvement.
  4. Cardio intervals. These are what most of you probably think of when you think of interval training. First, let's define the difference between "cardio" and "aerobic." Cardio means heart, while aerobic means oxygen. Aerobic training is most easily defined by the word "easy." (It's really defined by training below your anaerobic threshold, but let's dispense with the science talk.) Cardio, however, is any and all training that affects the heart, so it can include aerobic training, but also all the high-intensity training associated with intervals.

    High-intensity cardio intervals are performed in something we call "heart rate training zones." Cardio intervals target these heart rate training zones for various periods of time. When you design your own interval workouts, you have to do this for yourself. When you have a trainer, he or she does it for you. This is why we at Beachbody always have test groups to make sure our workouts train you in your proper zone. That way, all you need to do is follow along.
Interval lengths

In general, the longer the duration of the interval, the easier the workout. Some interval sessions have long and moderate intervals with short aerobic breaks. Others have short, difficult intervals with long aerobic breaks. Two interval systems that buck this trend are HIIT and INSANITY's MAX Interval Training. Both feature high-intensity intervals with short breaks, and both systems are very effective for creating rapid body composition changes. But due to their intensity, it's vital that you only do HIIT or MAX Interval Training for short periods of time as part of an overall program—like INSANITY, or Beachbody's new program TurboFire—that includes other types of workouts as well.

How to incorporate intervals into your workout program

As with every other aspect of fitness training, the type of interval training you start with should be based on your current physical condition. If you aren't very fit, you'll want to start with a very basic interval program (which will still feel plenty hard). Workouts like Slim in 6's Start It Up! or Power 90's Sweat Cardio 1–2 are good introductory interval sessions. If you're in doubt, start slowly. It's easier to increase your workout's intensity than to go backward. Intervals are the most effective way to see quick results from a workout program. If you're not doing intervals in your current workout regime, try adding some. If you're already doing intervals, maybe it's time to step up to the next level. You might just be amazed by the results.

An interview with Chalene Johnson by Steve Edwards

"I thought it was too hard, but it turned out to be everyone's favorite," says Chalene Johnson about the creation of her newest program, TurboFire®. "It sold me on the fact that people really do want something that will take them to the next level. But this isn't P90X® for girls. It's not INSANITY®. And it's not just harder Turbo Jam®. It's my answer to the question, 'What would work best for me?'"

TurboFire, the latest offering from Beachbody®, is next-generation in more ways than one. It's the hardest workout series to come from Chalene Johnson, but it's set up so anyone can do it. It's like cardio class at the gym, but it also has core and strength workouts. It's High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), but it's also traditional cardio. It's a structured program, but it changes dramatically over time. "If P90X is about Muscle Confusion," says Chalene, "TurboFire is about cardio confusion." Today we'll talk with Chalene to help you decide if TurboFire is the right program for you.

"I'm 41, and because of that, I (like everyone else) can wake up with aches and pains, so it was critical for me that this program be something that everyone could do," Chalene begins, dispelling the rumor that TurboFire was intended to be the next INSANITY. However, it's not the lack of high-end difficulty she's referring to, because the program is ultimately very intense. What makes TurboFire more versatile is that it comes with an optional preparatory schedule for those who lack the fitness base to jump right in. For them, each workout also offers a low-intensity option. "In every single video, we have modified moves with little to no joint impact," adds Chalene.

The creation of TurboFire was a long process, says Chalene. "It began in my Turbo Kick® classes. Health clubs don't care about beginners. The overwhelming majority of any health club classes are for advanced users. The mentality is sink or swim. Turbo Jam (Chalene's original Beachbody program) was a step down from what I teach; a starting point for what I was doing in the clubs. It was a ramp; essentially a place to get on the Turbo Kick highway.

"I had begun to study HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, which is short workouts that feature ultra-high intensity intervals," says Chalene. "I was using this in my classes when we created the Fat Blaster workout as part of Turbo Jam's continuity program. It was the hardest video we had done, and I didn't think people were going to like it. In fact, it almost didn't make it into the rotation. But then it turned out to be everyone's favorite." This meant, essentially, that TurboFire was on.

"The concept was to take the toughest Turbo Kick class ever and turn it into a program," Chalene says. "I was trying to answer my own question, 'What would work the best for me?' I'd been incorporating the HIIT philosophy in my classes. But HIIT had come out of sports, where athletes will do anything they're told. I needed to find something more interesting than sprints on a football field. I needed TurboFire to be tougher, more intense, but also more exciting and exhilarating than what I'd done in the past. Like anyone else, I get bored. I plateau. I have the same problems everyone else has. So TurboFire had to address this."

Chalene continues, "I didn't want to make P90X for girls. I didn't want INSANITY. I wanted a HIIT program. I wanted short-duration intervals that killed you. You had to be maxed at the end of each interval. That was the starting point, to be consistent with the research for HIIT. But HIIT can only be done for short durations, about 3 weeks at a time, before you start to overtrain and plateau. So the challenge was creating a program that expanded on these HIIT phases with other aspects like cardio training that would keep the results coming. So I started making workouts to address this and the result is this cool periodizational program that takes you through various forms of cardio training. If P90X is Muscle Confusion, TurboFire is cardio confusion."

What else was successful for the creation of a successful program? "Next," Chalene says, "it had to have great music for that class atmosphere, so you're having fun. But I also wanted the choreography to be easier to follow than Turbo Jam, even though the training was going to be more challenging. So we set it to sound effects so you don't need to follow a beat, so INSANE-ers, X-ers, and other non–Turbo Jam people could do it." Plus, Chalene says, "We wanted it to appeal to guys, too. And it has, especially the HIIT workouts. You don't need to feel as though you can dance. The music is there for motivation."

Chalene adds enthusiastically, "I think the music is 100 times better than Turbo Jam! Music is so important to me because with good music you don't have to find the motivation; it's there. It makes classes so fun that you don't notice how hard you're working out. It's so much easier sprinting to the right song than a random soundtrack.We had more of a budget and more time with the producers so we could get the music perfect. I had more of an influence over the process and was there every day. I wrote the lyrics. I controlled where the energy needed to build for the workout. This is why it took so long to get it done. Training this hard to OK music was totally not OK. I needed it to be off the charts, un-friggin'-believable, amazing music!"

Of course it's not all cardio. Anyone who's familiar with Chalene knows she's a firm believer that you need to strength-train regularly. As she says, "We wanted everything you'll need in one box: strength training, core training, stretching. But to be honest, what's unique is its cardio. The stretching is geared towards the cardio you're doing in Turbo Fire, but the strength training can be swapped with anything. In fact, I think in a perfect world, you might choose ChaLEAN Extreme® for strength training." (A ChaLEAN Extreme/TurboFire hybrid schedule comes with the program.)

"But," Chalene sums up, "the goal of having everything in one box is important because I want to create things you'll be doing for life. Like I said, this program was about what I would do. And I'm not stopping or slowing down. My finish line is in the coffin!"

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Wraps

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 | 0 comments »

By Team Beachbody

This colorful salad can be served as a first course or a main course. With ingredients like tomatoes, green beans, cranberries, walnuts, and more, this salad looks almost as good as it tastes.
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
  • 2 lowfat whole wheat flour tortillas (6 to 8 inches in diameter)
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. fat-free salad dressing
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Medium-sized frying pan
Spray medium-sized pan with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. When hot but not smoking, add onions and garlic and sauté until slightly browned. Add raw chicken and sauté until browned and cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes, or until no pink remains in center of each piece. Remove pan from heat. Place tortillas on plates. Put half the lettuce on each tortilla, followed by half the chicken, half the dressing, and half the rice. To assemble wraps, roll tortilla around contents, securing each with a toothpick if necessary. Makes 2 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 to 25 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
345 32 g 4 g 36 g 4.5 g < 0.5 g

By Justine Holberg

A veggie wrap for lunch. A night out for sushi. And you're working out . . . but you're still not losing weight. What gives?

Some "diet" foods may be your worst enemy. That's because they're tricking you into eating too many calories. So what are some of the worst offenders?
  1. Sushi: Fish wrapped in rice and seaweed. Not a diet food? Yep, that's right. It's not always as "light" as it seems. Some sushi has calorie levels so high it might just shock you.

    Diet Shocker: One eight-piece serving of Philadelphia sushi roll is the caloric equivalent of 1 medium bagel with plain cream cheese—close to 500 calories. It's the cream cheese that gets you. And what about spicy tuna and other mayo-based rolls? They can contain as many as 450 calories and 11 grams of artery-clogging fat per serving. Eat too many of the "wrong" rolls and you're in Big Mac calorie territory.
  2. Wraps: You order the whole wheat veggie wrap thinking it'll put you on the skinny track. But is it actually the fat track? For some reason, wraps have been viewed as a healthy upgrade from a sandwich, but this isn't always the case.

    Diet Shocker: The tortilla holding your wrap together can easily contain the same number of calories as four slices of bread, not to mention more carbs and twice as much fat. Many kinds of wraps you get at a deli have at least 300 calories. And that’s just the tortilla, not the contents. You also have to factor in the fillings—and keep in mind that a wrap has more surface space to spread these calorie-boosting culprits:
    • Dressing
    • Cheese
    • Mayo
    All told, one healthy-seeming wrap can easily trick you into eating hundreds more calories than you planned.
  3. Granola: When you're having granola, you might think, "It's healthy. The fiber and all those little pieces of dried fruit are so good for me." Truth is, although it's got good stuff in it, it also packs in the calories.

    Diet Shocker: A half-cup serving is what's often listed on the nutrition label of prepared granola. But who eats just half a cup? For most brands, there are more than 400 calories in a one-cup serving of granola. And when's the last time you actually measured? If you keep filling your cereal bowl with this stuff, it's no wonder you're not losing!
  4. Bran Muffins: The kinds sold at many bakeries today aren't the little 3-inch muffins Grandma used to bake. They're much, much bigger. And just because they're made with "healthy" bran doesn't mean they're a diet food, either.

    Diet Shocker: The average bakery muffin can contain as many as 630 calories. You might be slightly better off with a bran muffin than, say, a banana or blueberry one because of bran's extra fiber, but most of them are still packed with sugar and butter. Eat one bran muffin from Dunkin' Donuts® and you'll be consuming 480 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 46 grams of sugar. OMG.
  5. Dried Fruit: The more fruit you eat the better, right? Not when it comes to the dried stuff.

    Diet Shocker: You could boost your calorie count more than 400 percent (!) by choosing to eat the dried version of a fruit rather than its fresh counterpart. Check out these calorie comparisons based on a 100-gram (about 1 cup) serving:
    Fruit (about 1 cup)
    70 calories
    (Raisins) 30 calories
    50 calories
    240 calories
    90 calories
    (Banana chips) 350 calories
    45 calories
    (Prunes) 230 calories
  6. Pumpkin-Flavored Baked Goods: Pumpkin is nutritious, but these baked goods can be a dieting disaster. Like bran, pumpkin has lots of stuff that's good for you. So if you see pumpkin on a baked-goods label, it's easy to think you're eating something that's lower in calories. Not the case, though: Pumpkin doesn't mean diet food.

    Diet Shocker: Dunkin' Donuts strikes again. Their pumpkin muffin has 630 calories and 28 grams of fat. OMG again! Want to switch bakeries? It won't help much. A pumpkin muffin from Panera Bread® has 530 calories and 20 grams of fat, and the pumpkin scone at Starbucks® has 470 calories and lots of fat too—22 grams' worth. You might as well be eating pie with whipped cream!
  7. Olive Oil: It's a good fat and helps your burn fat. However, you don't need a lot of it to get the benefits. 2 tablespoons a day can do the trick. And overdoing it can backfire.

    Diet Shocker: Olive oil served with bread at a restaurant is heart-healthy, but high in calories. You can easily sop up a quarter of a cup. That's 478 calories, not including the bread. Or the rest of the meal you've ordered.
  8. "Healthy" Salads: That's what some restaurants want you to believe in their "lite" section of the menu. It must be diet-friendly, right? Not always.

    Diet Shocker: Listed under "Healthy Options" on the T.G.I. Friday's® menu, their pecan-crusted chicken salad, which contains mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, and celery, has 1,360 calories. Meanwhile, their cheeseburger and fries combo weighs in at 1,290 calories. Say it ain't so.
So what's a dieter to do in a world filled with "diet" traps?

Ask about nutrition and read food labels. After a while, you'll be a pro at it and enjoy the weight loss that comes with it. You won't even have to give up the foods you like. That's because you'll know how to work them into your food plan the right way.

By Amy Ludwig

What's one of the best things about working out at home? You can wear whatever you want. There's no dress code. No need to appear "cool." And no fashion police. The only consideration is that whatever you wear should help you Bring It!® harder. The idea is to dress for action—your way.

Here are several factors to weigh as you choose the right workout wear for you:
  • How much skin does it show? Are you currently having a "wish I were out of this body" experience? I've been there, especially at the start of a fitness program. So I understand the desire to cover up in big, baggy workout wear. Bare midriffs aren't the best look for all of us. But keep your eyes on the prize.

    You can cover your tummy with longer-cut tops, and keep it real and conceal with roomy exercise pants. Yet it's good to be aware of your body's shape, especially as you work to change it (think "before" and "after" photos). It's easier to watch your form on challenging moves if you can see your frame. And if you're working out in private, no one else's opinion matters. Besides, you're working out! Be proud of yourself.
  • What fabric is it made of? Cotton kills. OK, that's my personal, overly dramatic bias. I know lots of people who work out in basic cotton T-shirts and like them just fine. They're inexpensive, easy to get on, and come in any size or cut you wish. But when I'm doing serious cardio, I sweat. A lot. And I find that cotton quickly gets damp, heavy, and uncomfortable. If you hate wet, bulky clothes, remove that obstacle to your workout.

    I prefer exercise clothing made of synthetic fabrics, especially those that wick moisture away from the skin. Synthetic clothing remains easy to move in, even when soaked. It also tends to dry quickly. You can easily find it in sporting goods stores, at discount retailers, and online. Motivate yourself with an outfit that makes you feel like an athlete, and you'll increase your odds of success.
  • How much support does it give? When working out, you want to focus on how you're moving your body, not on how it wants to move on its own. If there's more of you to love in certain areas, you may be happier in workout clothing that provides some restraint. Some clothing companies, particularly ones geared toward women, rate the bounce-to-the-ounce allowance of their sports bras. If you're doing a high-impact activity that includes lots of jumping (plyo fans, holla!), opt for more support.

    And don't forget your shoes.

    Your feet hit the floor more than any other part of your body. If they're in pain, or your sneakers hurt you, you'll be less likely to Push Play. A pair of good cross-trainers with proper support and cushioning can prevent injury and provide energy. Try on several types and do a few Rock Star Hops before making your choice.
  • How much does it cost? You don't need expensive designer gear to Push Play. No one else is around to read your label. The most important thing is that you can move freely and work at the program you've chosen. Look for bargains and closeouts at discount retailers, sporting goods stores, or on the Web.
  • And the most important tip of all? WEAR IT. Whatever type of workout clothing you prefer, put it on. Push Play. And get your body moving. Pretty soon, you'll see results that make all this jumping and sweating worth the trouble—when the clothes you picked out begin to fit differently. And that's something exciting to work for.

By Whitney Provost

I love carbs. If my last meal on earth is warm bread with olive oil and a glass of wine, I'll die happy. But I love to be fit and lean too. So I know that if I want rock-hard buns, I'll occasionally have to skip the cinnamon buns. I don't live without carbs, but I do make better choices so I can still fit in my jeans. Here's how I do it.

Carbohydrates are essential for good health. They fuel the muscles and cells so our bodies can function. Without them, we'd be as active as three-toed sloths. And while low-carb diets can be great for jump-starting weight loss, they're not for everyone. When I go low-carb, I feel murderous within a week. So what works for me?
  1. I eat plenty of "good" carbs. First, I make sure that the majority of my carb intake consists of the so-called good carbs—oats, brown rice, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and beans are some of my favorites. I also eat plenty of vegetables, and even fruit (OMG!). These foods contain tons of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein, so I get lots of energy-boosting nutrition and I stay full longer.

    I'll be the first to admit that I'm not immune to the lure of cookies and candy, but I've learned through a lot of trial and error that these things don't make me feel very good once the initial sugar rush wears off. Since I'd rather be alert than snoozing at my desk in the afternoon, I just can't eat like that too often. Besides, too many treats and I don't fit into my pants. Not a bonus.
  2. I try to eat most of my carbs earlier in the day and around workouts. When I start my day with some satisfying carbs and protein, I just feel better. Oatmeal with a little protein powder added at the end, or Shakeology® with peanut butter and a banana, and I'm off to a pretty good start. I also like to eat some carbs around my workouts. If I'm hungry, I'll eat a piece of fruit or some berries with fat-free Greek yogurt about an hour before I train. Afterward I'll have a whey protein shake with fruit, or P90X® Results and Recovery Formula® if it's a particularly brutal workout. Dinnertime usually means chicken and a large salad, although I do love pasta with marinara sauce, or even cheese, crackers, and fruit. So whatever choice I make, I just eat it and enjoy it. The next day, I'll probably eat more vegetables and protein to balance things out a bit.
  3. If I really want it, I eat it. Sometimes a hot-fudge sundae is the only thing that'll cure my craving. So I eat one.

    I'm serious—when I decide I simply must have ice cream, I eat enough to be satisfied and then I move on. The difference is that I usually substitute that treat for whatever healthy meal I'd eat around the same time. So if the only suitable dinner choice is a hot-fudge sundae, so be it. (For obvious reasons, this cannot be a frequent occurrence. Besides, it tastes soooo much better when you really want it.)
  4. Can you lose weight eating like this? Simply put, yes. As long as you're eating fewer calories than you're burning, you will lose weight on a higher-carb diet. When I need to lose weight (after a few too many pizza dinners, for example) I eat the same as always, but I cut down my portion sizes. I still get all the flavors and textures I love without feeling deprived. And I bump up my workout intensity so I'm burning more calories each time.

    If you're like me, you love to eat all kinds of carbs. But I know that in order to be as lean as I want, I need to make good choices most of the time and keep up with my workouts (I'm on a TurboFire® kick right now). As much as I'd love to eat bread and butter all day long, I wouldn't look or feel very good. I often stop and ask myself what's more important, this bowl of pasta or fitting into my skinny jeans again? One decadent meal will not derail a week's worth of healthy eating. It may slow down my progress, that's true, but I'll get where I want to be eventually. And even better, I'll be healthy, happy, and sane!
What does a carb lover's weight loss diet look like?

As I get older, I can't get away with eating as much as I used to. So when I've overindulged a few too many times, here's what a typical day of back-to-basics eating might look like:

Breakfast: Shakeology® with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter and one small banana.

Midmorning: Protein pancake. (Grind 1/2 cup of oatmeal in a food processor, then whisk it together in a bowl with 5 egg whites, 2 packets of stevia, a small handful of raisins, and cinnamon to taste. Lightly coat a small 8-inch nonstick pan with cooking spray, preheat over medium heat, pour in batter, and cook until pancake is brown on one side. Flip and cook until the other side is brown.) I make several of these on the weekend, wrap them individually in aluminum foil, and store in the fridge. Before work I just grab one and go.

Lunch: Large salad with kidney beans, cucumbers, bell peppers, and salsa.

Afternoon (if I'm hungry): Fat-free Greek yogurt with berries and cinnamon.

Dinner: Grilled chicken with steamed vegetables or salad. Or whole-grain pasta with marinara sauce, chicken sausage, and vegetables.

By Joe Wilkes

It's the holiday season. Time for goodwill, brotherly love, and time spent with family, friends, and coworkers. And of course, it's time for an almost daily excuse to drink festive holiday beverages—from about mid-December to the bleary morning of January 1, when the first New Year's resolution of the day usually involves something about not drinking so much in the coming year. Here are some of the temptations that show up every year fresh off the naughty list, and some ideas to help make them a little bit nicer for your figure.

  1. Eggnog

    Naughty: The king of the holiday beverages. And what's not to love? The main ingredients are cream and sugar—which is why one cup of it contains 343 calories and 19 grams of fat. And that's before you add the liquor. My grandmother, who normally did not drink, kept a bottle of "flavoring" in the garage, so that once a year, the less abstemious could pour a shot of whiskey into their eggnog. Eggnog enthusiasts will argue whether rum, brandy, or bourbon is the proper additive, but whatever liquor you choose, it's going to run you an additional 64 calories an ounce. So now the cup of eggnog is up over 400 calories.

    Nice: Buying low-fat eggnog will save you about 100 calories. Or you could try making your own eggnog from scratch; substitute skim milk for cream and egg substitutes like Egg Beaters for the eggs to reduce the fat and calorie contents. You can also go easier on how much sugar the recipe calls for; it's almost always more than you need.

  2. Wassail

    Naughty: The word "wassail' comes from the Anglo-Saxon wæ hæil, meaning "be healthy." Its namesake beverage doesn't quite live up to the advertising. Wassail is essentially hot ale and port or sherry with added sugar, fruit, and spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, and ginger. On the bright side, it is fat free. But it's still naughty! It's about 400 calories' worth of naughtiness, in fact.

    Nice: You could just have a regular pint of ale. A pint of Newcastle, my favorite, only has 187 calories for a pint. You could toss in a cinnamon stick to make it festive, I suppose. Otherwise, when making wassail, like everything, the best advice is to go easy on the sugar. Not to mention, excessive sugar is one of the main contributing factors to that post-holiday hangover.

  3. Mulled Wine

    Naughty: Also known as glögg or Glühwein, mulled wine comes from a northern European tradition of heating red wine, and adding cinnamon sticks, cloves, citrus fruits, and sugar or honey. The tradition of this holiday beverage is believed to have begun when old wine had turned bad and the spices and a spoonful or 10 of sugar helped the medicine go down a little easier. Mulled wine is lower in calories than wassail, about 270 calories a serving, and red wine has been proven to be heart-healthy in moderation, so it's got that going for it.

    Nice: To make it even lower in calories, you could (all together, now) cut down on the sugar. If you use a sweeter, higher-quality wine, you won't have to dump so much sugar in to make it taste good. By using a more full-bodied wine like a Zinfandel or shiraz for your base, you'll get more wine flavor instead of cloying sweetness. Ask your wine merchant what a good wine would be for mulling. Then, let the no-calorie spices flavor the wine, and add a little sugar at the end if you really feel it needs it.

  4. Hot Buttered Rum

    Naughty: Well, I guess it stands to reason that anything that begins with the phrase "hot buttered" isn't going to be health food. And this drink, largely composed of rum, brown sugar, and melted butter, is no exception. There are various recipes for making it, usually involving some batter made of sugar, butter, and, sometimes, ice cream or regular cream, which is then mixed with some rum and boiling water to taste. A generous serving could set you back 500 calories and 20 grams of fat, half of which are saturated.

    Nice: Probably the easiest way to make this buttery beverage a little more figure-friendly is to add more boiling water and dilute the evil. Or, if you can live without the butter, you can make a hot toddy. A hot toddy is a bit of alcohol, like whiskey, brandy, or rum, with hot water poured over it. You can add other ingredients like lemon juice or spices (nice) or a little sugar or butter (naughty). This should take the chill out of your bones nicely without overinsulating them with weight gain.

  5. Peppermint Patty

    Naughty: This is a drink known by different names, but it's basically "hooched-up" hot chocolate. I once temped for a couple of days at a morale-challenged company, where the office alcoholic kept a bottle of peppermint schnapps in her file drawer to "flavor" the office-supplied hot chocolate in the afternoon. Truth be told, it was quite tasty (don't judge me; it was a really bad temp job) but not the most calorie-friendly beverage. Hot chocolate has about 300 calories and 18 grams of fat (11 grams saturated), and the shot of schnapps adds another 125 calories or so, depending on the brand.

    Nice: Like almost every recipe, the secret to making things healthier lies in making more of it yourself. As the gift baskets from vendors stack up around the Beachbody® offices, there are lots of packets and tins of instant powders, each one having more sugar than the next. The more you can resist the convenience of the instant sugary powders and mixes, the more you can control how much sugar goes into your drink. For example, for hot chocolate, you can substitute skim milk for whole milk, and add unsweetened cocoa powder or melt in some dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. Then, if you're going to hooch it up, add the schnapps before you add the sugar. Schnapps and most liqueurs already contain enough sugar to effectively sweeten your drink without it being sweet already. Plan ahead, and you can create beverages that are filled with flavor instead of sugar and empty calories.

Test Your Holiday Food IQ!

Friday, December 24, 2010 | 0 comments »

By DeLane McDuffie

Some people are literally scared of food. Yep. Believe it or not, some people dread the holiday season because they "know" they'll pig out and gain weight. Holiday food gets a bad rap. Food can't defend itself from folks grabbing it and munching on it. If this were a court of law, holiday food would need a character witness. Many of the good qualities of holiday food are underreported. Stand up and testify on behalf of the voiceless and defenseless, and match the holiday food with its understated trait(s).
  1. Sweet potato – Vitamin A: Sweet potatoes have come up a lot in recent articles that I've perused. That's probably because they're freakin' delicious. Growing up in the South, a group dinner could run the risk of being shut down if there were no sweet taters in, at least, a 5-mile radius of Grandma's kitchen. A baked sweet potato (with skin) contains a ridiculous 769 percent of the recommended daily value (RDA)** for vitamin A. In addition to being low in sodium, it also has 65 percent of the RDA for vitamin C. That's right! No scurvy for you!
  2. Pecans – Protein: Whether you pronounce it "pea-cans" or "puh-cahns," pecans are unsung heroes in the fight for food R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I've heard people vilify pecans because of their association with . . . um . . . pecan pie. As an advocate for pecan rights, I resent that statement. First of all, pecan pie is just that—pecan pie. Sugar's the enemy, not pecans. One cup of pecans contains 10 grams of protein, 42 percent of the RDA for fiber, 15 percent of the RDA for iron, and about one-third of the zinc that Uncle Sam recommends that you get on a daily basis. While their zinc battalion is helping your body fight off colds, pecans are also arming you with an arsenal of vitamins and minerals, and are also low in cholesterol and high in unsaturated fat. Take that, pecan (pie) haters!
  3. Milk and cookies – Fiber and vitamin D: Santa leaves a gift for you every year, right? Why not leave him a gift of your own? Instead of contributing to Santa's impending heart attack, why not slide him some heart-healthy food? Give the man a fighting chance. He's already breathing in smoke and fumes from all of that chimney exploring. Instead of those extra-sweet cookies that you usually bake for him, bust out some low-sugar oatmeal cookies. Fiber is his friend. Be his new Rudolph, and guide his sleigh to a new, healthier way of life. Don't forget the glass of milk. Make it low-fat or skim milk. A cup of milk has about 25 percent of the RDA for vitamin D, which is a scarce commodity, and is only naturally present in a few foods. That's like drinking sunshine.
  4. Fruitcake – Iron: Uh oh. I can hear you now: "How dare he bring up . . . fruitcake?" Yes, it is high in calories. But it doesn't have to be that way. One slice of fruitcake packs a respectable 11 percent of the RDA for iron. That's a start! As you know, the "fruit" part of a fruitcake is good for you—raisins, currants, cranberries, apricots, and cherries, just to name a few. But you can always make the "cake" part of a fruitcake more nutritious, too. Use egg substitutes instead of eggs. Use unsweetened applesauce. Don't use as much molasses this time around. Throw in some heart-healthy walnuts or some "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." Okay, I'm not so sure about the chestnuts. I've never tried it. But you can. That's the whole purpose of a fruitcake anyway. It's the palette of holiday culinary creativity.
  5. White Russian drink – Low fat: This holiday favorite has been known to give some holiday partiers an early exit. But if you're planning to make a grand exit of your own, you might as well do it with a little less guilt . . . and gut. I've seen White Russian recipes that have as much as 800 calories. Yolki! That's a whale of a drink. While you're mixing that 1-1/2 ounces of Kahlua or coffee liqueur and 1-1/2 ounces of vodka, try using 3 ounces of fat-free half-and-half, instead of that nice, thick whole milk or cream. Also, try substituting the 1-1/2 ounces of cola with a diet cola. That should cut down some of those calories and fat. And as always, drink in moderation. That way, the youngsters won't find you passed out under the tree on Christmas morning, drooling on the circuitry of their video game console.

By Team Beachbody

This colorful salad can be served as a first course or a main course. With ingredients like tomatoes, green beans, cranberries, walnuts, and more, this salad looks almost as good as it tastes.
    Raspberry Vinaigrette (can be made one day ahead):
  • 4 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
    Niçoise Salad:
  • 1 lb. salmon fillet
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 1 lb. mixed baby greens (rinsed)
  • 2 small red potatoes, skin on, boiled and quartered
  • 2 small purple Peruvian or blue potatoes, skin on, boiled and quartered
  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and blanched
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 4 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup Niçoise olives
  • 2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
Preheat broiler to 400 degrees, or preheat gas, charcoal, or countertop grill. Whisk together ingredients for raspberry vinaigrette and refrigerate. (For convenience, dressing can be made up to one day ahead.) Cut salmon fillet into six serving-sized pieces. Combine lemon juice and olive oil in small bowl and brush onto both sides of each piece of fish. Then lightly salt and pepper each piece, sprinkle with fresh dill, and either grill or broil for about 10 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Remove from grill and set aside.

Toss mixed baby greens with a quarter of the raspberry vinaigrette, then divide greens between six medium-sized salad bowls. Arrange each of the remaining ingredients (except parsley) in its own separate section atop the mixed greens in a visually appealing, festive presentation: the salmon, potato halves, tomato wedges, green beans, egg slices, olives, capers, walnuts, and cranberries. Drizzle each serving with the remaining raspberry vinaigrette, then sprinkle with parsley, salt, and pepper. Bon appetit! Makes 6 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes (cooking salmon), 20 minutes (preparing servings), up to 24 hours (chilling dressing, precooking and chilling potatoes and eggs).

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
402 28 g 8 g 35 g 20 g 3 g

Recipe: Low-Fat Holiday Eggnog

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | 0 comments »

By Team Beachbody

Want to serve something festive that won't have you looking like Santa in the new year? This twist on a holiday favorite has a great carb-protein-fat ratio that'll help you stay healthy for the holidays.
  • 4 cups skim milk
  • 12 oz. evaporated skim milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Ground nutmeg
Chill 6 oz. of the evaporated milk in the freezer for 30 minutes so it will whip better. In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together skim milk, remaining 6 oz. of evaporated milk, eggs, and sugar. Rinse your whisk in hot water to ensure that no bacteria from the egg remain. Once you've done that, use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture on the stove constantly for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. (Do NOT boil.) Remove pan from heat; transfer mixture to a large bowl and let it cool for several minutes. Place chilled evaporated milk and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk together until slightly thickened. Add it to the egg mixture and whisk for a few minutes more, until frothy. Refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours. If the eggs begin to coagulate, you can strain the mixture to remove the solids. Top with ground nutmeg before serving. You may substitute 1/2 cup of rum or brandy for vanilla. Makes 12 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes (mixing), 4 hours and 30 minutes to 24 hours (prechilling)

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
73 6 g 0 g 7 g 2 g 1 g

By Steve Edwards

Winter is hard on your skin. Even the healthiest of us have a rough time coping as the days shorten and the thermometer begins to drop, which is why words like dry, chapped, itchy, and flaky are often associated with snow, wind, and cold. Here is a 10-step program to help your skin survive the winter.

  1. Hydrate. This is, by far, the most important thing you can do during the winter. When it's cold, it's hard to drink enough water. For one, you don't get thirsty. But even when you are, drinking cold water can cause your body to revolt, creating a catch-22 that can leave your skin dry and itchy. Our bodies are mainly made up of water. Here are some of the roles that water performs:
    • Regulating body temperature
    • Carrying nutrients and oxygen to all cells in the body
    • Moistening oxygen for breathing
    • Protecting and cushioning vital organs
    • Helping convert food into energy
    • Assisting the body to absorb nutrients
    • Removing waste
    That's a tall order of functions; and the organ that's most affected when deprived of water is the largest one, your skin. It's hard to convince yourself that when it's cold you often need as much, if not more, water than you need when it's warm. This is because cold air is drier than warm air. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that artificially heated air is drier than naturally heated air, creating a need to hydrate even more.

    Do keep in mind that water need not be cold, or even just water. You can hydrate with almost any liquid, but most have added ingredients (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc.) that will hurt you in other ways. This makes keeping an assortment of herb teas an excellent winter accessory choice.
  2. Exercise. Most of us work out to keep healthy and/or look good in a bathing suit. If that's all you thought exercise did, welcome to the bonus round. Working out also does wonders for the skin by toning, reducing stress, and increasing circulation. Increased circulation means that your blood can deliver oxygen and nutrients to your hide.

    Exercise also makes you sweat, which flushes toxins out of your system. Additionally, it releases sebum, a mixture of fatty acids, waxes, triglycerides, and cholesterol that acts as the skin's built-in moisturizer. Researchers at Eberhard Karls University in Germany believe that sweat also releases dermacidin, an antibiotic that limits disease-causing bacteria, thus reducing your chances of getting a skin infection. So pop in that P90X®, Turbo Jam®, or Rockin' Body® video for healthy skin!
  3. Moisturize. Try doing it as soon as you get out of the shower, and do your best to make this a ritual. Post-shower, when your natural oils have been washed off, is a vital time for moisturizing. Even if you're pressed for time, taking a minute to add moisturizer to your entire body is worth it, since your skin absorbs it best when it's warm and damp. You don't have to limit this to once a day—your skin would be pressed to get too much lotion—but after a shower is by far the most effective time.

    Try finding products free of fragrance and parabens. Also, don't buy products that contain mineral oil or petroleum. Both of these will clog your pores and can trap sweat and dirt, thus causing acne. For your face, you should also try to use a moisturizer that contains sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (more on this in #7).
  4. Take hydrating baths. While soap dries your skin, there are ingredients that, added to a bath, will help hydrate you. Baking soda works if your skin is very dry and itchy, but as a precautionary measure, choosing a hydrating bath substance makes more sense. A perusal of any skin care aisle will provide you with myriad options.
  5. Shower less. Soap and water do more than just wash away dirt. Soap removes natural body oils that do more than just protect our skin; soap removes body oils that help us fight off environmental toxins. Our preoccupation with cleanliness can actually have an adverse effect on our health. Not that you shouldn't bathe, but doing it more than once per day is excessive, especially if you're not sweating profusely. And if your skin feels dry and itchy, opting for a moisturizing bath is the prudent call.
  6. Take your vitamins. Vitamins and minerals do all kinds of things for your skin. Zinc and protein speed healing and reconstruct damaged tissue, as does vitamin C, by aiding the production of collagen—the protein-building blocks vital to all your connective tissue. Vitamin E helps with circulation, which flushes out toxins. Both vitamins C and E deliver antioxidants, which are believed to fight against sun damage, smoke, and the dreaded hole in the ozone layer—although they are by no means a substitute for sunblock and a good hat. To ensure you get all the vital nutrients you need every day, it's a good idea to take a premium multivitamin like ActiVit®, which includes 200 percent of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C and 100 percent your DV of vitamin E.

    Fatty acid supplementation, like fish oil, also helps ensure that your nutritional profile is strong and ready to combat the evils of winter (Core Omega-3 is a great way to meet your fish oil needs).
  7. Use sunscreen. Most of us are conditioned to add sunscreen while skiing or going to the beach, but daily sunscreen use on your face and neck should be practiced. Many facial moisturizers have sunscreen as an ingredient. Because they are more expensive, it makes economical sense to have two bottles of moisturizer, one for your face and neck, and one for the rest of your body.

    Make sure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum in addition to having a high SPF. It should protect against both UVB rays, which cause superficial sunburn and skin discoloration, and UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin, accelerating aging and causing skin cancer. Make sure you don't forget your ears and the back of your neck when applying sunscreen as they are prime real estate for skin cancer. Don't forget your lips, either—try to use a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher to avoid drying and burning. The stuff's cheap, so keep a tube in your car, at your desk, at home, etc.
  8. Eat fruit. All the damaging effects of cold, dry air create free radicals—nasty little oxidized molecules that are believed to cause tissue damage at the cellular level. Among other things, free radicals contribute to the development of cancer. The best way to neutralize them is with antioxidants, like the ones you get from many fruits and vegetables, including oranges, berries, leafy greens, and beets. You'll also find antioxidants in green tea and some in tasty items like chocolate. But fruit, which is harder to find during the winter, is the best natural source of antioxidants and has a number of other hydrating and health effects to help keep winter's ill nature at bay.
  9. Humidify. When Mother Nature isn't cooperating, it can make sense to use man-made solutions. Humidifiers come in all shapes, sizes, effective ranges, and prices. From the poor man's solution of boiling a large pot of water to highfalutin units that can make life in an igloo mimic life in the Amazon jungle, the principle is the same: to add moisture into a dry environment.
  10. Skin-friendly couture. Cottons, silks, and other skin-friendly fabrics that glide over your skin can help lessen the irritation of winter. Unfortunately, many traditional fabrics that keep you warm can also make you feel like you're wearing a Brillo pad when the northern winds begin to blow. When you can, layer with something soft as a base.

By Denis Faye

We know, we know—you're so busy working out and taking in all the information you get from the Beachbody® and P90X® newsletters, you don't have time to read a new book. Well, this isn't about you! It's about all the friends you still need to buy presents for, and for them, books are an ideal gift. They're affordable, you can mail them cheap, and by giving someone a book, you suggest to them that you think they're at least quasi-literate. So with no further ado, let's check out some great reads.

For fitness seekers looking for a little spirituality with their sweat:

A Course in Weight Loss: 12 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever by Marianne Williamson (Hay House, $24.95)

The opening paragraph of A Course in Weight Loss reads, "This book is a spiritual curriculum consisting of 21 lessons. It is separate from anything else you might do regarding diet or exercise. It is a retraining of your consciousness in the area of weight."

Heady stuff, huh?

Author Marianne Williamson has a good point, though. While it's theoretically simple to get your body to do a program like TurboFire® and eat a diet of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and veggies, getting your brain and your heart onboard is another thing. That's why so many of us try and fail over and over. This book tries to break that cycle.

Most of the lessons within are nothing new in terms of self-help. Williamson openly admits to borrowing from A Course in Miracles and the 12-step method, but what makes this book different is that she's directly targeted overeating and body image. Some chapters are standard feel-good lessons, such as Lesson 14, "Feel your Feelings," or Lesson 17, "Forgive Yourself and Others." Others look directly at the issue at hand, such as Lesson 6, "Build a Relationship with Good Food," or Lesson 7, "Love Your Body," which contains a question I wish someone would have asked me back in my overweight days: "Is it your body you hate, or its size?"

As the title indicates, there's also a strong religious aspect here. Williamson tries to lessen this by proposing readers use the Alcoholics Anonymous theory of "it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you call on it." That said, there's a lot of talking to God through the book. Even if that's not your thing, don't let that deter you. There's also a lot of insight to ponder and self-discovery to be learned, whether or not you talk to a higher power.

If the person you're playing Santa Claus for is already deep into one of our programs and having great results, she or he probably doesn't need A Course in Weight Loss, but if that person is still fumbling, this book makes a welcome companion, either as passing inspiration or a serious tutorial.

Beachbody Rating: 8 out of 10 bikinis.

For the budding home gardener with a conscience:

From Seed to Skillet: A Guide to Growing, Tending, Harvesting, and Cooking Up Fresh, Healthful Food to Share with People You Love by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger (Chronicle Books, $30)

Even the quickest perusal of this beautiful, instructional coffee table volume on home gardening is enough to make you want to dust off your hoe and overalls and convert your back deck into an organic tomato plot, but be warned: It's not that easy. Sure, veteran green thumb Jimmy Williams and his coauthor, home and garden feature writer Susan Heeger, do a great job at showing you how it's done, but keep in mind that produce gardening, especially without the time-saving aid of hellishly evil chemicals, is a time-consuming passion. You don't get weekends off. If you don't tend to your fruits and veggies, they'll probably die.

Public service announcement aside, this is a wonderful book. Williams is a particularly fascinating person. He walked away from a thriving career as a clothing designer to pursue his first love, growing organic produce—a skill learned from his South Carolina grandmother, who carried on the traditions of her Caribbean slave ancestors.

You'll find in-depth information on all aspects of gardening, from choosing and creating spaces to soil management to plant grouping to saving seeds for next season. On the gardening end, there's not much missing here, right down to the blueprints for raised beds and a chart on pairing plants. I also really enjoyed Williams's "Edible A-List of Must-Have Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruit," a series of essays on his favorite produce.

That said, however, it's a bit light on the "skillet" side, devoting just 19 pages to favorite recipes. Also, in my home garden, I often end up with a surplus of some produce, and even after sharing with the neighbors, one can only eat so much squash or watermelon. It would have been nice if the book delved a little into canning and preserving.

But that shouldn't stop you from buying From Seed to Skillet. If you're interested in starting a home garden, making your existing one better, or just having a beautiful coffee table book to show your forward-thinking friends, this is a great investment.

Beachbody Rating: 7 out of 10 organic tomatoes.

For the anyone with a little salt water in their soul:

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey (Doubleday, $27.95)

Surfers, myself included, tend to take pause when outsiders take on their sport in print. Our attitude is that if you don't ride waves, it's difficult to understand what it's all about, so don't try to tell us about it.

Wisely, author Susan Casey isn't really trying to explain the mysteries of "the tribe" in her latest book, The Wave. She's just using their adventures as a narrative in trying to explain the mysteries of what the tribe rides—waves. And although surfers tend to have a better understanding of meteorology than most thong-wearing slackers, few of us have the in-depth understanding of the waves that you'll get from reading this book. It should be required reading for all water people.

Casey avoids turning this into a 300-plus page weather report by interspersing two narratives filled with colorful characters and catchy cliffhangers. First, she follows legendary big wave rider Laird Hamilton and his peers as they chase 80-foot giants around Hawaii. Second, she follows a group of scientists chasing the same giants, "nature's biggest tantrum," in hopes of understanding the devastating impact they have on humankind during deep-sea storms and coastal tsunamis.

The most compelling of the aforementioned characters in the book are the waves themselves. Casey paints them as deadly, mysterious creatures that confront—and are confronted by—humankind on all levels.

If you know someone who has any curiosity about the ocean and likes his or her nonfiction to be of the thrill-a-minute page-turner variety, The Wave is a great ride.

Beachbody Rating: 9.5 out of 10 surfboards, dude.

For the locavore with a serious Green Acres fetish:

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball (Scribner, $25)

When Kristin Kimball met Mark, the man who would soon become her husband, she was a New York City journalist, scraping along in a typical urban existence. Mark, conversely, was anything but typical. The eccentric, handsome, organic-farming savant with a gift in the kitchen and a penchant for wearing his T-shirt inside-out every other wearing (so that they’d wear more evenly) swept her off her feet. Before she knew it, she'd moved out of her rent-controlled apartment and into a dilapidated farmhouse on 500 acres near Lake Champlain to live Mark’s dream of building an organic, "all diet" farm.

Today, 100 people are members at Essex Farm. For $2,900 annually, they travel to the farm every Friday to stock up on all the beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and veggies they can eat for the next week. For many of them, it's all the grocery shopping they need.

The Dirty Life is Kimball's account of her transformation from city girl to farmer. At first, it may seem a bit off-putting to see this very independent woman completely change her life for a man, but as much as Mark is no fumbling Eddie Albert, this lady is no prissy Eva Gabor. Mark's dream farm was a lofty ambition and Kimball went after it as an equal—and a determined one at that. They often butt heads throughout the book. Furthermore, her calling was that of writer, not urban socialite, and this book is evidence that she's every bit the scribe she ever was. By weaving her relationship with her husband into the story of founding this farm, she's created a story about the glories of locavorism—a movement that involves eating locally produced, sustainable foods—that deserves a place on the bookshelf next to Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Beachbody Rating: 9 out of 10 free-range eggs.

By Stephanie S. Saunders

It's a Thursday morning at 6 a.m. You've already hit snooze too many times, and you have a meeting at 7:30. You really want to get your INSANITY® Max Interval Plyo workout in, but you don't have 55 minutes to spare. Well, if you just fast-forward through the warm-up and skip the cooldown, you can squeeze it in and still get a decent workout, right? Um, I don't think so. Skipping the warm-up and cooldown can decrease your performance level, open you up to injuries, and possibly make your recovery time longer. How so, you ask? Let's find out.

Up, up, and away!

The purpose of a warm-up is to gradually increase your heart rate, your blood pressure, your oxygen consumption, and the elasticity and heat of the active muscles. A warm-up will also release adrenaline, increase the dilation of blood vessels, and enable oxygen in the blood to travel at a greater speed. A warm-up increases the production of synovial fluid located in the joints, reducing friction, and allowing for more efficient movement. Other advantages include an increased speed of muscle contraction, an increase in the metabolism of the muscle, and an increase in the induction of nerve impulses. And psychologically, a warm-up prepares us for the task at hand, and gets us involved in the process.

The components of a warm-up can vary depending on the activity you're going to participate in, but most warm-ups will have these important elements:
  1. Graduated increase in heart rate and body temperature. If you were to run a 400-meter sprint, it's unlikely you would arrive at the track, pull off your sweatshirt, and suddenly explode onto the track in an attempt to finish in 40 seconds. You'd be wise to begin with a walk and increase to a slow jog, which you would maintain for 5 to 8 minutes. Slowly increasing your heart rate and body temperature in a training activity similar to exercise you're about to undertake allows your heart, muscles, and mind to adapt to the workload you have planned for it.
  2. Dynamic stretching/range of joint motion. There is a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of stretching in a warm-up. A recent study by USA Track & Field involving close to 3,000 runners theorizes that there's no difference in the risk of injury for those who stretched before running and those who didn't. When you read the actual study, however, more than half of the participants didn't follow the protocols, which mainly consisted of doing static stretches of three muscle groups, or doing nothing before running. Furthermore, those who did stretch were less likely to have reported an injury to a healthcare professional. And lastly, all this research was collected via email, so it wasn't as if they all met at the same track and were monitored for stretching and injuries.

    So is stretching helpful? Well, if it is taking your joints through a range of motion, increasing the elasticity in your muscles and connective tissues, and mimicking the biomechanical movements of your chosen activity, then heck, yes. This is considered dynamic stretching, which uses speed of movement, momentum, and active muscular effort to create a stretch. So in the case of your upcoming run, you might perform skips with high knees, walking lunges, and calf raises, focusing on the primary muscles you're about to use.
  3. Graduation to proper training intensity. After you complete your stretching routine, the final step of your warm-up is slowly increasing your intensity to your training level. The duration of this last portion of the warm-up depends on your planned activity and your current fitness level. In the case of your upcoming run, you might go back to your jog and slowly pick up the pace until you're at a run, then perhaps intersperse some sprinting intervals for a few minutes. Then you'll be ready to go for the 400!

    Goin' down . . .

    The number-one goal of the cooldown is to decrease your heart rate. Cooldown helps prevent blood pooling in the veins, which will help avoid dizziness and fainting. It also guarantees adequate circulation to the heart, brain, and muscles.

    Again, the components of the cooldown are dependent on the chosen activity. But all cooldowns should include:
  4. Decreasing your heart rate. We've all heard the story of the college student who suddenly stopped at the conclusion of a race, and then dropped to the ground. The lesson to be learned is that your heart needs a gradual return to normal. The length of the first portion of the cooldown depends on the intensity and length of the workout. If you went for a run at 70 percent of your max for 30 minutes, you'd complete a jog for at least 5 minutes, followed by perhaps 2 more minutes of walking. If the workout was longer or more intense, a longer time is needed for your heart rate to slow down.
  5. Static stretching. Your body is at its warmest point at the conclusion of a workout, which is the ultimate opportunity to increase your overall flexibility. This is the time to hit all the major muscle groups. Static stretching is slow and constant and held at an end position for up to 30 seconds. This form of flexibility training is the most effective way to increase range of motion in a joint, and might in fact improve speed and jumping ability. In our running example, you'd stretch your calves, shins, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, external hip muscles, and back—even your neck.
  6. Decreasing your body temperature. So you've finished your stretch and you immediately jump into a cold shower, or take a walk outside in your sweaty workout clothes in January. Um, no. This is a shock your muscles don't deserve. And yet this happens more often than you can imagine. I can't count the times I've watched ballet dancers finish class in New York City, then walk outside in their tights to smoke a cigarette in the snow. Slowly lowering your body temperature means just that . . . slowly. If you have to walk out of the gym, put on something warm. If you just finished P90X in your living room, spend a few minutes moving around your house before jumping into a warm shower. Slowly lowering your body temperature will allow your muscles to continue to relax, including one very important muscle: your heart.

    The warm-up and cooldown parts of your workout don't hold the glamour of a heavy bench press, a brilliant sprint, or a standing split. And yet they're vital to your overall fitness level and the health of your muscles, heart, and mind. Just a few extra minutes can do a world of good. And consider this: It's a lot easier to warm up and cool down than it is to take time off work for a trip to the doctor. So the lesson to be learned is to get your tail out of bed and do your entire workout. Don't skip the "appetizer" and "dessert" when they actually make the main course taste better—and they're calorie free!