Easy Peanut Butter Protein Muffins

Muffins always, alwaysalways make me think of this scene from Shrek:

It goes without saying that I shamelessly quote that movie whenever possible.  My sense of humor is nothing if not odd.

But even if you don’t like Shrek or people who quote hysterical gingerbread men, you will like these muffins.  After all, what’s not to like? They’re easy, they include peanut butter (nectar of the gods hippies), and – of course – packed with protein.  So you can be a bro and eat your muffins, too.

(This is getting weird.)

So, long story short slightly-less-long, I made these flourless chocolate muffins last week.  I was hungry, they looked tasty, and the 4 ingredients required were already sitting in my kitchen.  Of course, I added an extra banana and extra cocoa powder, because I have a creative license and it likes to be exercised.  These bad boys turned out looking like cow pies, but tasting like happiness.  I shared some with my family, and my dad liked them so much that he asked if I could tweak the recipe to include more protein.

In the words of Barney Stinson…

challenge accepted

So I mucked up the original recipe even further, even going so far as to add protein powder.  That’s actually a big deal, because the last time I baked with protein powder was in 2011 when I moved into my first apartment, and it was a disgusting disaster.  (The only saving grace was that it was an excuse to play the sexy housewife role and wear a little pink apron with daisy dukes.  Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same.)

This time, my muffin-making efforts were much more successful.  These protein muffins are prettier than their cow pie-looking predecessors, and according to my taste-testers, they taste pretty divine. (I couldn’t try them myself because they contain dairy, but you could easily make them dairy-free.)  Maybe my luck was better this time around because I was wearing an adult onesie while I made these.  Sometimes you have to trade sexy housewifery for successful muffins.

If you ask me, it’s worth the trade.

And if you ask me, you should definitely invest in an adult onesie.

Easy Peanut Butter Protein Muffins

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Don’t mind the stab wounds on the middle muffin – he was the victim of rudimentary “testing for done-ness” techniques.

Ingredients:

  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • roughly 1 cup peanut butter
  • about 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 scoops protein powder (I used Pure Protein Vanilla, but other brands/flavors may work, too. Use a dairy-free protein like Skoop B-Strong to make dairy-free muffins.)
  • stevia to taste (I used about 2.5 droppers of Trader Joe’s brand liquid stevia)
  • a healthy splash of milk, just to help things mix up (use non-dairy alternative to make dairy-free muffins)

Directions:

  • Toss everything but the milk into a food processor or high-powered blender and mix it up.
  • Add milk and blend again.  The result should be a thick batter.
  • Pour into lined muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes at 350°F.
  • Devour while dancing around the kitchen in your onesie.  (At the very least, do the dancing part.)

*Remember, I treat cooking more like an art than a science.  These measurements are all estimates because I didn’t actually measure anything while baking.  Have fun with it, get creative, and find yourself a onesie to wear with your bros while you chow down on these muffins and compare gains.

Marshmallow Theory: Make Your Workout the Reward

Recently I stumbled upon one of Jen Sinkler’s recent pieces for Women’s Health.  She shared 4 ways for making your fitness habits stick (i.e. “how to actually get your tail in the gym on a consistent basis without being escorted there at gunpoint”), and they were great tips…but what I really loved was her reference to the famous “Marshmallow Study” done by Stanford University.  If you’re unfamiliar, a quick synopsis of the study is here.  The Stanford scientists were looking at the levels of impulse-control children exhibited when presented with a tempting food (in case you’re not there yet, that food in question was marshmallows…) and the option to eat that food immediately, or wait 15 minutes and be given twice as much to eat (so, 2 marshmallows).

So how do marshmallows relate to fitness? As Jen so simply put it, “Find a way to make your workout the marshmallow.”

When I read that, I think I found the tagline-version of my personal fitness philosophy.  I’ve waxed poetic before about the importance of making fitness downright fun, doing workouts that make you feel alive, finding joy in movement, and choosing activities that truly excite you.

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I’m all about that business, and after more years than I care to remember doing workouts that I hated, there’s no turning back.  If you’d told me 4 years ago that I would love working out because I loved my workouts, I would have laughed.  Back then, I loved workouts because they were my penance for eating and having a body that took up space, and sweat was a way of atoning for the sin of having curves.  Workouts didn’t just assuage my guilt, they gave me a sense of accomplishment (so I didn’t have to face the fact that I wasn’t accomplishing other – more important! – goals in life).

Although not everyone has had an eating disorder, most folks can relate to doing workouts they dislike.  These bodies were given to us to be used, and life is far too short and time far too precious to spend it doing workouts we hate.  After all, there are hundreds of different ways that you can be active, stay healthy, and get stronger.  So find the modalities of movement that you love so much you get twitterpated and buzzed (without pre-workout) or old-fashioned excited just thinking about it, and give yourself permission to do it all the damn time.  (Just be sure to throw in recovery days and time for trying things that make you look ridiculous.)

Yoga 20 October 2014 (3)

Outtake #17 from my attempts to get a clear photo of a forearm stand.

Go turn on some music and dance.

Roll out your mat and do yoga.

Try some calisthenics.

Swing a kettlebell around.

Take a hike.

Surf, run, swim, bike, lift, do gymnastics, do jazzercise, tap dance, parkour, climb a tree, play football, just play.

Play until you find your marshmallow, and then keep playing.

Happy moving, folks. 

The 1% [Veterans Day]

Less than 1% of the American population serves in the military.  In honor of Veterans Day, let’s honor those brave few who have chosen to undertake a service that involves sacrifices and risks which few people will ever understand.  There are few more cherished privileges than being an American, and even this would not be possible without the selfless efforts of generations upon generations of courageous servicemen.  They charged headfirst into hell knowing that they might not make it back out.

veterans day Iwo Jima flag raising

So here’s to you, the 1%.  From Bunker Hill to Omaha Beach to Iwo Jima to Mogadishu to Fallujah….Thank you for all of it.  It’s an honor to share the home of the brave.

Tribute: To the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines

For those whose service cost everything: Yellow Stars

“Last Shot’s Fired” (Trace Adkins, featuring Westpoint Cadet Glee Club)

Healthy Really Is Good Enough

A friend (hey, Tara!) recently shared this post on facebook, and I was reminded once again of how much I love Donloree Hoffman’s blog.  I’ve read her blog intermittently for a few years now, and this particular post, “Healthy is Better than Hot,” is easily in my top 3 favorites.  In it, she details her journey through multiple health challenges and varying states of fitness and leanness, and the freedom she has found in making fitness less of a focus in her life.  This really resonated because I wasted years of my life letting my obsession with body image dominate as my number one priority.  While those years certainly are not beyond redemption, my life would be much different today if I had taken the focus, time, and effort that I directed towards my body and put it into meaningful work.  My education, career, relationships, and hobbies would all be different.  Saying that “fitness” was a “hobby” of mine made it seem socially acceptable, even positive, and most folks wouldn’t have batted an eye.  In reality, my “hobby” was managing a collection of disorders – body dysmorphia, exercise bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression, to name a few.

Normally I wouldn’t share that kind of thing publicly, but I’ve been approached by more than a few folks over the past few months, all of whom have asked the same question: How can I stop obsessing about food/exercise/my body? They’re questions I asked myself more times than I can count, and as Donloree put it, “I thought having a rocking body would make [those issues] go away; how misinformed I was!”  One of the only things that helped those issues was replacing them with other priorities.  When I stopped forcing myself to pursue a hot body above all else, I discovered a whole new world.  [Cue everyone’s favorite Aladdin song…] I have time for real hobbies now that I’m not devoting the majority of my waking hours to researching and planning the perfect workouts and nutrition.  I can go out for drinks with friends and enjoy foods that are absolutely not considered healthy – pumpkin pie, French bread, burritos, anything from Starbucks – without being wracked with guilt or feeling compelled to atone for my dietary “transgressions” with hours of extra workouts.  I can make plans without worrying about when I’ll be able to fit in my workout, and I can miss a workout without batting an eye if something more important comes up.  I can truly focus on my other priorities without constantly being drawn back to obsess over why my body isn’t perfect and how I might be able to make it so.

Eyes half closed and looking pretty endorphin-drunk...sounds about right.

Eyes half closed and looking pretty endorphin-drunk…sounds about right.

What I loved most about what Donloree wrote was her focus on controlling our thoughts.  Before they are actions and habits and downward spirals, disorders (and disordered behaviors) first come to life as thoughts.  As much as our current society may like to deny it, the reality is that we absolutely have control over what we do with our thoughts.  We can direct them, or we can sit back and let them dominate us.  She likened it to having control over a jail for unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts – when one crops up, “Throw it in, lock it up, and keep going!”  I would add that when you stumble upon healthy and helpful thoughts, you should elect those suckers to congress and let them stick around and help you make decisions moving forward.

So what can you do differently, and how do we answer the question: How can I stop obsessing over food/exercise/my body?

The short answer is this: Make real priorities your priority.

I’m not saying you should not make an effort to be healthy and instill healthy habits, nor that doing so is easy and requires little effort.  Health is important and it requires effort…but it does not require all your effort. So give health the effort it requires, and then forget about it.  Give that top priority spot to something that matters more – your career, your education, your hobbies (real hobbies…”cardio” doesn’t count as a hobby).

The funny thing is that when you make something other than your body/body image a priority, you might be surprised at how much better you feel about yourself.  You know how a potential romantic interest is that much more attractive when they are pursuing their passions in life?  The same concept applies to you.  The more you have a sense of purpose and live with that purpose, the more attractive you become and the more confident you will feel.  These days, a perfect body is not my priority, and the body I’ve got is pretty average – 135 pounds, 5’3″, and I usually wear a size 6.  I’m strong but not the strongest, and I’m fit but not the fittest.  I’m happy with that.  Could I be leaner/stronger/fitter? Sure. Is it my top priority? No. I’m healthy, I’m happy with what I see in the mirror, and I’m so much happier with my life now that it doesn’t revolve around trying to get a perfect body. I distinctly remember wandering through the junior’s section of a department store when I was about 14 and thinking how horrible it would be if ever there came a day where I had an “average” body and fit into average clothing sizes.  I could not see how I would be able to live with myself if I was not skinny.

And here I am today – average-sized, healthy, and pretty damn happy about it.

TRX L-sit...October 2014

Of course, I still have my moments where I find myself a little neurotic over the shape of my ass or the size of my love handles.  That’s when I remind myself “more pleasin’ for the squeezin’” But I’ve got enough real priorities now that I don’t have the time or desire to worry too much about those details.  Healthy is good enough.

Discuss:

What did you think of Donloree’s post?

Do focus your efforts on “hotness” or health?  Do you think health is a worthy goal on its own?

How does your thought life affect your body image?

foot health

Fixing Your Feet – Why Foot Strength is Important, and How to Improve Yours

I was born with feet that are pretty great for swimming.  Wide, relatively flat, pretty much hobbit-feet, but without the hair.  Unfortunately, these flippers have never bestowed upon me Phelps-esque prowess in the water…all they do is make it really hard to find shoes that fit well.  I had always assumed that having pretty severe pronation and weak arches was hereditary, and I would get to enjoy those traits (and the injuries they to which they make me so inclined) for life.  That’s why I was surprised and delighted to find this article about “How & Why to Make Your Feet Stronger.”  This was a guest post by Kate Galliet on Robb Wolf’s site, which is one that I don’t normally visit unless Gandalf Google leads me there (probably because it’s a website about paleo, and mama don’t do paleo).  Let’s just say I’m glad I found this, because it’s been a game changer.  First of all, I had never thought that there was a possibility of fixing my arches – silly, because I know that the arch is a comprised of muscles, but I’d always viewed feet as things that were just kind of there – fancy little nubs on your legs that made standing and moving much easier, but not really anything to be trained specifically.  After all, where’s the aesthetic value or sex appeal in a strong, “toned” foot? (Assuming you’re not a foot fetishist, of course.  And if you are, well, ew.)

I digress.

The strength and stability of your feet and ankles is actually hugely important because your stance is the foundation of the rest of your posture.  If something in the foundation is off, everything else – knees, hips, spine, shoulders – is going to be affected, and has a heightened risk for imbalance and eventual injury.  Since I’ve got plenty of “quirks” (to put it kindly) involving my creaky knees, uneven hips, and bum shoulder, it stands to reason that my wonky hobbit feet may be partly to blame.  Check out “The 6 Pillars of the Unbreakable Body” (also from Kate, and also on Robb’s site…go figure) for a more thorough explanation of how the integrity of your feet and ankles affects the whole rest of your body.

In the first article I mentioned, Kate shares a couple drills  you can do to increase the strength of your feet/arches as well as improve your foot position and posture.  I gave them a shot and was surprised at how strange it felt to actually stand with my feet properly positioned.  There is a significant difference in the leg/hip/glute muscles that are activated when standing properly vs. standing as I normally would.  Clearly I’ve got work to do…but I’m excited to see the difference as time goes on and my feet/arches get stronger.  Kate seemed to be saying it was possible to correct arches that are too low/flat, and while I’m not holding my breath for beautiful ballet-dancer arches, I’m hoping my little hobbit hooves will become a bit less hobbit-y and a lot less injury prone over the next several months!

Check out the article and give those quick drills a try, then let me know what you think!

Discuss:

Have you ever had foot problems or suffered a foot injury?

Do you ever think of specifically training the muscles in your feet/ankles?

If you gave those foot strength drills a shot, how did it go??

 

Back to School: Stress Management

Hold on a moment while I brush the cobwebs out of here…

I’ve not been posting much the past week or so because I’ve been (ironically, as you’ll see) taking my own advice.  Life is busier and more stressful than usual, and some things had to go on the back burner.  And now that most folks are back into the thick of it with school/work and preparing for the holidays, it’s easier than ever to get stressed out, frazzled, and drained.  Trust me, I’ve been around that block a few times.  (My wolfpack will tell you that I am nothing if not tightly-wound, high-strung, and neurotic.)  And I know, as I’m sure you do, that it’s not a good place to be.  So today, I’ll wrap up the Back to School series with some suggestions for better stress management during the chaos of school, work, the holidays, and life in general.  If you want to catch up on what we’ve covered so far, check out Back to School: Fitness and Back to School: Nutrition.

Don’t screw around with your sleep.

When life is stressful, it’s more imperative than ever to have your sleep habits up to par.  Read this post for more about how (and why) to get better sleep.  In short, inadequate sleep – in either quantity or quality – will negatively impact your ability to handle stress, along with every other facet of health.  When you’re exhausted, it’s so much harder to CTFD when things get crazy.  So be consistent, create good sleep habits, and remember that all-nighters are rarely ever necessary.  That’s a fact.  (Or at least it’s my professional opinion, as someone who made it through college without ever working on school work past 2300.)

Honor your priorities.

Not everything can be a priority all the time.  Not everything that is urgent is a priority.  Not everything that can be done is something that should be done.  Know your top priorities and honor them.  You’ll find it becomes easier to say “no” to the things that detract from those when you are focused on saying “yes” to your greatest priorities.   One of the greatest tools I’ve found for prioritization is Covey’s time management matrix.  The two-axis matrix provides a way to priorities tasks/activities by the measure of their importance and urgency.

covey's time management matrix

Out of all the things I learned in college, this is one of the few that I still consistently use.

Incorporate restorative fitness practices.

Psychological stress can manifest itself physically.  You know how some folks say they “carry their stress in their shoulders?”  That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  When we are stressed, it can also be much more tempting to become lax about keeping proper form in training and keeping up on stretching, foam rolling, and other rehab/”prehab” exercises.  All of a sudden, knotted muscles and tight tendons seem to have cropped up overnight.  This is why it’s all the more important to incorporate restorative fitness practices into your routine during the more stressful seasons of life.  Days when you’re rushed and have to choose between your usual training or a more restorative workout, you’ll do better to choose the latter, at least some of the time.  In general, make a point of paying attention to your body and taking care of tight muscles/tendons as soon as they begin to show up.  The nice thing is that stretching, yoga, and self myofascial release (whether with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, jack knobber, or other tool) can all be fairly relaxing, so you can get a little extra bang for your buck by making this habit part of your pre-bed routine.

Schedule fun.

It’s easy to become completely immersed in deadlines, projects, and to-do lists.  Those are all important, but so is creating space for fun and keeping up on your relationships…and it’s taken me only about 24 years to learn that. Treat “fun” like any other item on your task list and block off a specific time for it. Invite friends along, or make it a solo adventure.

60 minute reset at coffee repulic

Whether it is getting a cup of coffee and enjoying a change of scenery, or a night out dancing, or a weekend spent hiking, if it’s something that fits your definition of “fun,” you’ll come back refreshed and more ready than ever to tackle your projects and deadlines and to-do lists.   Just get out there at least once a week and do something purely for the sake of having fun.

 Here’s to a season filled with less stress and more productivity, adventure, and joy!

Discuss:

What are your favorite ways to de-stress?

Do you have to schedule fun for yourself?

 

Minimalist-ish Circuit Workout

Some days you wake up ready to just crush your workout…And then other days you get in the squat rack or on your mat or to the trail and you think to yourself, “I got nothin’…”

I’ve had a lot of those “I got nothin’…” days lately.  Not necessary burn out, but more a sense of restlessness and trying to figure out what how I truly want to train.  My workouts have been shorter and less intense than normal, and I may have fallen asleep on my yoga mat mid-workout last week.  I’ve decided to turn this little dry-spell into an opportunity to try new things with my training and find my mojo again.  (A lot of handstands and inversions have been happening, and I’m convinced we could all stand to spend a little more time upside down.)

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Not having a long term program at the moment means I can amp-up the “play” factor and really focus on the joy I get from moving – in whatever training/playing modality that may be – and then eventually figure out how to work that into my long-term training structure.

But that’s more rambling than you wanted, so let’s get to the point.  Today I woke up and decided I was in the mood for an exercise smorgasbord…I threw together a little bodyweight circuit, and sandwiched it between a mile run (to warm up) and this weight-plate complex (which looked so fun that I had to try it).  It was a little sweaty and a lot fun.  It’s pretty minimalist – all you need is a bench/step/sturdy chair, a chin-up bar, and a place to do inverted rows (you can use a table, as seen at Nerd Fitness) – and it’s one of those circuits that gets your heart pumping but isn’t balls-to-the-wall intense.  You could do it on it’s own for a 25-30 minute workout, or tack it on to another short circuit or a short run if you want to stretch out the sweatiness.

Minimalist-ish Circuit Workout

leg lifts on bench x 25 (This gives you an added range of motion to increase difficulty, but doing them on the floor is fine, too!)
toe-taps on bench x 20 each foot
inverted rows x 15 (modify foot positioning as necessary to suit your level of strength)
curtsy lunges x 20 each leg
jumping jacks x 50
windmills x 10 each side
step ups on bench x 20 each side
“monkey” pull ups x 8 (hands are stacked in front of each other and you are facing parallel to the bar, rather than perpendicular…alternate between bringing your head up to the left and right of the bar)

Perform the exercises in order with minimal rest between each.  Take a minute or two to rest at the end, then repeat for 3 rounds total.

Have at it, have fun, and let me know how you like it!

PS…did you take the survey yet?  It’s only a few questions, and it would mean the world to me to have your feedback!  Survey is here.

Discuss:

What do you do when you’ve lost your mojo?

Which kinds of workouts feel most like “play” for you?

Do you follow a set training program or just go where your mojo leads you?