12/31/13

2013 Trimarni recap

Another year means another chance to reflect. Here are a few of my most memorable moments from 2013.

But first, I want to say THANK YOU to all the Trimarni fans and followers for letting me share my passion for health, nutrition and fitness with you.

And for all my athletes and fitness enthusiasts, thank you for letting me enjoy the journey with you as you reached personal nutrition/body composition goals and crossed finish lines.

2014....I can't wait to live each and every day to the fullest!

JANUARY




I exchanged my goggles, compression and running shoes for Oakley women snow gear in Utah.

I have really enjoyed being on set for News4Jax. This has been a dream come true for me to be on TV and share my passion for food and public speaking. Melanie is so great to work with and I really enjoy our energy together.
For my TV segments you can find them on my PRESS page on my website.
FEBRUARY
  
There's never a shortage of Trimarni creations in our house and my heart-happy bars/balls were a hit all year. I created this recipe for my Heartwise TV segment but also used a similar recipe for three Oakley Women/Shape magazine events that I did in California, Colorado and Texas throughout the year. 

MARCH

                         
By now, you know I love to travel. I was so lucky to be able to go to so many awesome places this year thanks to Oakley Women.
Also, my amazing hubby loves to share life with me so for his first full season of triathlons, we were able to make a lot of memories together at races outside of Florida.

 Another highlight was seeing the first ever Trimarni Kit in real life. Karel did such an amazing job designing the kit and I can't wait to see the newest edition in the next few weeks!
In Jan, I celebrated 1 year of  being a small business owner and seeing my athletes wear the Trimarni kit at their races (using their body to cross finish lines) was the most amazing feeling all year long. I absolutely love being a coach and helping athletes reach personal goals. 

APRIL

                             
20 years of being a plant strong athlete was celebrated in April. I have also continued to celebrate over 6 years of not getting sick (no cold or flu) - thank you body!!!!

Not a day of life goes by without feeling so lucky that I get to enjoy my life with Karel. On two wheels we get to see a lot but in life, it's the experiences that we get to share together that make me feel so lucky to be alive and well. 

MAY


                       
What a trip!!! Traveling to Czech Republic and visiting Karel's home in Znojmo was the highlight of the year. Karel had not been home in 12 years and it was so great to share this experience together. 
At the end of the month, I celebrated my 31st birthday which was also the day that Karel and I met on a group ride, in 2006. 



JUNE

Campy was a great role model for us as we spent 10 weeks training specifically for IM Lake Placid. With 90 days of no running for me, I really used my mental coach, Gloria, to keep me moving forward and for not letting me give up on my goals. 


I really enjoyed sharing so many new experiences with Karel as I trained for my 6th IM and Karel trained for his first IM. 

JULY



video




video



It wasn't easy but we did it!!!

AUGUST

  
With my third Ironman World Championship on the horizon, there was no shortage of delicious creations to fuel my active body. 



I stayed rather busy in August, speaking events, my business, hospital work, writing articles.
But certainly, I am not complaining!

SEPTEMBER

Keeping life balanced, there was no way I would miss Karel racing the HOT triathlon. And I could not have been more proud and excited to see Karel win his first race!!!
We also celebrated Karel's birthday this month and my brother got married!


OCTOBER


ALOHA!!!
What fun I had in Kona this year. Not only did I swim, bike and run my way to a PR in my 3rd IM world championship (10:37) but I was able to share my journey via social media (blogs, facebook, videos, instagram) and also make memories with my friend, mental coach and most amazing sherpa Gloria. 
FUN TIMES

 


Also, Karel and I celebrated 5 amazing years of marriage. I love being married to my best friend, teammate, bike mechanic, coach and biggest fan. 

 
NOVEMBER

                        
Change can be good and change can  be scary. This month, Karel and I decided that we would focus 100% on growing the Trimarni business. This was an exciting time for us to work closer as a team to help athletes and fitness enthusiasts from all over the world reach personal health and training goals.
 
 


DECEMBER

What a year this has been. There was no way I could include everything which I guess is a good thing. 
There were many quotes in magazines, articles written, talks given, athletes coached, fitness enthusiasts to work with and lots of yummy food consumed. 

Karel and I could not be more excited to work with the most amazing group of athletes/dreamers/motivators in 2014. 



Oh and of course, many many many pictures of Campy. 


I hope everyone is looking forward to another year. Be sure to not waste a single day. 
Dream big, work hard and always enjoy the journey. 


Happy (almost) 2014!!!!

12/30/13

Goal setting for 2014


I think a New Year is a great time to think about new goals but to also reflect on the past year. 

In your head, goals always sound great. 

Qualify for Kona or a National competition.
PR at my upcoming marathon. 
Travel more.
Be a better planner. 
Have a better attitude.
Get more active in my community.
Get a new position at work. 

But the challenging part is not only seeing them through but also, having an action plan that allows for progress, setbacks and everything in between. 

I thrive off goals. I can not function well in life without goals for goals give me meaning. They keep me motivated and they keep me enjoying the journey of life. I am never too hard on myself with my goals for I keep them as realistic as possible. And most of all, I know in life that things happen that stop me from being consistent. So the plan often changes, but never the goal. 

As we enter a New Year, this is a perfect time to set short and long term goals for yourself in the following areas:
LIFE
DIET/NUTRITION
EXERCISE/TRAINING

Consider what you have accomplished in the past as well as your strengths and areas for improvement. As an athlete, I know that being faster or stronger is not in training more but instead training smarter. For you, your goals should be similar to your passions in life. You should set goals that challenge you but also that will make you happy. You should always love what you are doing. Sure, things will always be hard at first but if you are dissatisfied with something or are seeking a new challenge in life, health, career, finances, social life, community or fitness, there's never a better time than NOW to experience something new. 

Create new goals - NOW

Goal setting allows you to experience life in a new way. With new goals you will step outside your comfort zone. Life will have a new meaning and purpose and may even give you strength in other areas that you never thought possible. 

Keeping things simple...goals take you somewhere new in life. 

Think about the last time you accomplished something? Perhaps a weight loss goal, a training/fitness goal, a career change. 

How amazing did you feel when all that hard work paid off? 
When you set a realistic, practical and meaningful goal, you can take pride in your achievements and also feel strength when you overcome obstacles. 

I love being able to see progress. This is why when I train for triathlons, I make sure to have specific workouts that allow me to see progress. I use my training gadgets, I do testing periodically and I also have specific workouts to challenge me to see how much progress I have made through each phase of training. 
Progress, for me in triathlons, is not always about a time, speed or distance but instead, thinking about what I was doing before and where I am today. Sometimes I find great success in overcoming obstacles or stepping outside my comfort zone even if physically, I have not made significant progress. 

I am so excited for you to set goals and to find joy in achieving those goals. But first you have to define your goals, write them down and know exactly where you are going and by when. 

1) Think about your past successes and failures/lessons learned. Your new goals should give you more confidence in life. 
2) Goals should inspire you, motive you and make you a better person. 
3) Goals need an action plan. How are you going to get there and by when?
4) Who's part of your team to keep you going when times are tough or to give you a high-five when you make progress? Be sure to surround yourself with energy givers and not energy suckers. 
5) How will you overcome challenges? What challenges are you expecting in the next year? 
6) How will you celebrate and acknowledge success? Be sure to not dwell on setbacks and forget to celebrate the milestones. 
7) What does this goal mean to you - mentally, physically, emotionally?
8) Will this goal keep your life in balance and does your action plan allow you to function well in society?
9) What kind of environment will you create to keep you moving forward?
10) What will you do when you reach your goal? What will it feel like?

Now that you have taken time to think about your goals - it's time to start your plan. 

How will you get there?
When do you want to get there?
What will it mean to you when you get there?

What goal will change your life in 2014?


12/28/13

Training, food and work - catching up


I love this quote. I'm sure you agree if you love your job. 

This past week has been very busy for me (thus the lack of blogging) so I thought I'd catch you up....

MONDAY:
I love my PRN (as needed) position at Baptist Medical Center Beaches because it allows me to help out the other clinical RDs when they need time off work. This gives me only a handful of days each month to put on my clinical dietitian hat but because the human body is so amazing, I always learn something new, every time I see patients in the hospital. This week I worked Mon, Tues, Wed (on call only), Thurs and Fri so it was really nice to follow patients all week and to spread some good health and cheer to those who were not well during this time of the year. But of course, being a clinical RD requires a lot of brain power so that leaves little energy in the evening for blogging.

Delicious tempeh and broccoli stir fry with quinoa:
Tempeh
Broccoli
Mushrooms
Quinoa
Marinara sauce
1. Cooked tempeh in a little olive oil.
2. Steam broccoli and mushrooms.
3. Cook quinoa
4. Combine the veggies and tempeh and then for your serving, 1/2 - 1 cup quinoa on top of your veggie mix. Stir in marinara sauce to taste and enjoy!


TUESDAY:
Nothing beats a morning run followed by strength (or any workout) to make you appreciate a healthy body.
I did some dynamic stretching after warming up on the elliptical for 20 minutes and then hit the treadmill for some intervals.
Main set 6xs:
4 min @ half marathon pace w/ 1 min EZ recovery (straddle treadmill)
Strength work included circuits of monster walks (with band), Russian squats (holding dumbbell weight by chest), planks, single leg step ups on bench, side planks w/ leg lifts, leg drops and super mans. Many of the exercises are included in my 5-week Transition plan.

In the evening, Karel and I celebrated our Czech holiday dinner and finished it with some cookies (sent with love from Karel's mom in Czech) and watching Campy destroy his new toys.





WEDNESDAY: 
After sleeping in and waking up without an alarm, we hit the road around 9am for a very hard 3:15hr ride. Karel really made me work hard on his wheel, alongside the wind that was at our face for the ride home.
Main set 2x's:
4 x 8 min (Z3 low, Z3 mid, Z3 upper, Z4 low - for each of the 8 minutes - using power) w/ 2 min EZ after each one (we took an extra 4 minutes recovery after #3 before we did Z4 low).
My power is very similar to Karel's power when I stay on his wheel so I was able to suffer right behind him during these intervals.
After the 40 minute set, we recovered for about 20 minutes riding in steady Z2 and then repeated the set.



THURSDAY: 
Before work, and after an interval run (Main set for 30 minutes, 2 min half marathon pace, 1 min "fast", 1 min EZ for 30 minutes), I did a segment on News4Jax on "Plates Not Pills - eat your vitamins"

WATCH HERE



FRIDAY: 
Karel joined me for a swim and we did a great main set:
Main set 3x's:
200 @ 85% effort, rest 30 sec.
4 x 50's w/ 10 sec rest, focusing on form, build to fast.
Rest as needed, then repeat 2 more times.
After our 3500 yrd swim we did an intense core/hip/glute workout for 20 min and then it was off to the hospital for me.....Karel had a RETUL bike fit scheduled later that morning.

Yummy morning oats (after pre swim snack, post swim snack)
1/2 cup dry oats
frozen peaches and strawberries
Cashews and almonds
1 tbsp chia seeds
Water for mixing


Campy is so nice...he let Madison sleep in his bed and roughed it up on the couch. 



Well, there you go....busy, healthy and happy.

Hope you are enjoying the weekend!


12/24/13

Real food, home cooking. Who doesn't love the holidays?

I've had a few life changing events that involved traveling over seas. 

When I was 13 years old I traveled to Japan as part of an exchange program with my school. It was really exciting to stay with a family for 2 weeks and to go to school with my Japanese "siblings."

When I was 20 years old, I traveled to Cebu, Philippians for a work service trip with my college. It was a life changing experience that really changed me. Perhaps it is the trip that gives the "whys" as to why I am so passionate about so many different things today particularly involving quality of life and the diet. I had no running water for 2 weeks (only bucket showers where I would pump my own water for 1 bucket per shower), I slept on concrete (with a sleeping bag), I had no air conditioning (in May) and food portions were very small. 

I am so grateful that my parents gave me two international trips when I was growing up because when I met Karel, I felt like it was meant to be that I was lucky enough to spend the rest of my life with someone who grew up outside of the US. Although I love being an American, I really love learning about the lifestyles in other countries. 


                               
Not only did Karel educate me on the "real" beers in Europe but I learned so much in our recent Czech Republic trip in May. This trip was not so much a life changer as it was a life reinforcer. I was able to live the life I aspire to live in the US and while in Czech Republic, I found it so easy. Real food, lots of walking and a lifestyle that is a bit slower and more focused on quality of life. Sure, there are some downsides (and why Karel left Czech so he could live the American Dream) of living in another country but I really felt at home in Czech. 

Beautiful views. 

Fresh bread...daily. 

Riding our bikes to Austria (Ok, it's only 10K away from Karel's hometown of Znojmo but it sounds so much more impressive to say we rode from Czech to Austria)



Touring Prague. 

I'm sure you noticed but around this time of the year, the grocery stores are packed. There's a lot of food shopping for all the holidays eats on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas (and any other celebrated winter holiday). 

Grocery shopping is a bi or tri-weekly occurrence for me for I shop for my staple foods but there's a lot of quick trips for produce. Here recently, the packed grocery store and aisles full of people have reminded me  a lot of our trip to Czech. 
Everyday in Czech the locals shop for fresh bread. They also shop at local farmers markets (in season) and do a lot of canning for the winter. There's processed food but for Karel's parents and most of his town, meals are homemade. There was not one fast food place in his hometown and most of the town closes around 5 so that people can get ready for dinner. Lunch is a large meal and there is also a lunch break for the town where most of the town shuts down. 
At the ice cream shops - there is no inside seating. You get your ice cream cone and walk around.
However, in the coffee shops, you do not get a cup of coffee for the go in a paper cup. 



Coffee is consumed slowly, in a small espresso cup often alongside a danish that is appreciated and not seen as "bad" food. 



This is the time of the year that I love for our society. Recipes are flooding the kitchen counter, ingredients are being combined and the smells in the oven make every tummy sing for joy. 
Whereas most people see this as a time of overindulgence's or fatty and high calorie meals when it comes to holiday eating, I see, think and taste real food.

I see families cooking, getting together to eat at a set table and to use silverware. They are not scarfing down a meal in 5 minutes to make a deadline or to get to the next meeting. They are not eating mindlessly in front of a computer, phone or TV or behind the steering wheel in a car. 
Although there may be a processed food option or two, the majority of our holiday meals are based on traditions, secret ingredients and memories that last a lifetime. 

 Would it be too much to ask for our society to emphasize home cooking, 365 days a year?

How about a few days per week?

Now, I am not saying that you have to break out the fine china every evening and never watch TV or sit on the couch when you eat. Also, I don't believe in a 100% real food diet (I've discussed before about choosing fortified food for the right reasons). 

I think the best place to start appreciating real food and home cooking is just that - appreciate what you choose to put into your body. And while that can  be done anytime, the holidays are a great place to start. 

I feel our society struggles the most with having a healthy relationship with food and it is exacerbated around the holidays. 
For many, eating is a time of guilt, restriction or obsession.
For others, there is absolutely no enjoyment for eating - often it is simply a stressful or boring time. 

It's as if for some people, with every bite there's little enjoyment for food for fuel and for nourishment but instead a mixture thoughts of body bashing, enjoying food, calculating calories, factoring a workout (or not) with food amounts and types, etc. 
Instead of feeling great after a meal, there's precise quick measures as to how to try to take back the "damage" that was done.
And for others, the diet is restricted to the point that food doesn't enhance life but instead controls life. 

Although it does take a little more time, planning and dedication, think about how great it feels to enjoy a meal that is cooked slowly and prepared with love. 

Enjoy this time with your friends and family (furry ones included) and be sure to thank your awesome body for another year of an awesome life. 

Happy Holidays!!



12/22/13

Physiological adaptations to altitude: train smart


I remember my very first destination bike ride - beautiful Lake Tahoe in September of 2006. This was a very exciting opportunity for me to ride my bike somewhere new and to experience how much I love having gears. I had my tri bike less than a year but I instantly fell in love with climbing. Oh, this trip was also extra special because my "boyfriend" Karel (who I had been dating for less than 5 months) joined me for our first trip together. 


I guess if any guy would voluntarily ride his bike around Lake Tahoe with me for "fun", he would be a keeper. Lucky me!

As much as I love traveling to race and racing to travel, it's important that when I pick my races, I understand the variables that can have a positive and negative impact in my racing experience. I put a lot of time, effort and money into my race day planning and training so it is important to me that I am able to do my best on race day by controlling my variables. Because my best distance is the Ironman, I realize that spending so much time and effort to prepare my body physically for 140.6 miles is hard enough. Add in conditions that I can not properly physically prepare for and that becomes an entire different scenario. 

Although some athletes may be fine to race in an environment that has elements that are new to the body on race day, it is important prior to selecting races (or if you have them picked, to adjust race day plan properly) to address any limiters that could or may affect your race day experience. Although I live in Florida, my body loves to climb. I do not train on any hills but I know how to simulate race day conditions with my power meter to help me pace in different intervals which could resemble race day. As for racing in the mountains......not likely as I live at sea level in Florida. 

As for altitude, perhaps there may be a day when I will do a race out West in the mountains but for now, I love to race and I know my body will become compromised the higher and higher I go above sea level (especially compared to the athletes who I am competing against - who can live and train at higher altitudes than myself). This is why it is really important for athletes to properly pick races that suitable for successful race day experiences (weather considered as well). There's nothing wrong with a bucket list race but be sure to consider the physical, financial, time and mental investment you are making for your "destination" race and if are able to put all that hard work to the test on race day. 

In the Fall 2013 (vol 32, No 4) issue of SCAN there was a great article discussing endurance athletes who train at altitude. We have all heard "train low, live high" to maximize performance but there are a few things to pay attention to with altitude training. Whether you are choosing to train at altitude specifically for physiological purposes or traveling for vacation and hope to maintain your fitness/training routine, here are a few tips from the newsletter (pg 18): 

-Iron - make sure iron stores are adequate by being testing for serum ferritin before going to altitude. Ferritin concentrations below 20 ng/mL to 30 ng/mL suggest a suboptimal iron status that might not support blood based adaptations to moderate altitude. In some countries, such as Australia, endurance athletes with low serum ferritin are encouraged to take an iron supplement daily for 2-4 weeks before going to altitude. 

-Illness - start the trip when you are healthy; avoid the trip if you are sick. An athlete who feels unwell does not need any additional stress relating to the dry air and hypoxia associated with high altitudes. Instead, the athletes should rest and recover at sea level. 

-Inflammation - Research examining the efficacy of EPO (erythropoietin), a hormone that controls new red blood cell formation, in sick people demonstrates that inflammation reduces the red blood cell response to EPO. Because EPO is a cytokin (a signaling compound involved in the immune response), it is possible that other cytokines involved in inflammation also interfere with red blood cell production. That could mean reduced ability to transport oxygen from the blood into the working muscles - and that means early fatigue.
-Intensity - Athletes should avoid doing high-intensity exercise at altitude for a while. Although they may be excited to start altitude training, many athletes overdo it during the first 3-7 days. They then struggle to do high-quality workouts during the middle of the camp-or even worse, they become sick. Allowing the body a few days to get familiarized with altitude is a wise plan.  

-Intake of Energy - Eat enough: no dieting is allowed at altitude because the body needs energy to make red blood cells. although it may be easier to lose weight at altitude (due to a lack of appetite), the better time to lose weight is during the off-season. 

-Investment and interest - Altitude training camps can be extremely motivating and exciting. Athletes want to use this unique environment to build hope and optimism for upcoming competitions. 



Since I won't be racing swim, bike, run in the mountains anytime soon, I think I will stick with the snow sports when I have the opportunity to enjoy a snowy, amazing mountain view.
(picture from Oakley Women product testing trip in Utah)






12/21/13

The need for swimming speed - three key swim workouts


I couldn't believe my eyes on Friday morning when Karel joined me for part of my main set at the Brooks YMCA. For the past two months he has been swimming at UNF with a Master team that emphasizes form before distance. Karel kept telling me how much more he was enjoying swimming and that he was getting faster without significantly working any harder. Also, no shoulder pain and a true enjoyment for being in the water. Yes, all coming from my bike-loving hubby who just learned how to swim in June 2012.

There are so many health benefits to swimming. Plus, it' so much fun to pretend you are a fish.


 I think swimming is a fantastic exercise of choice for almost anyone because it is non weight bearing but I often see triathletes swimming and swimming and swimming - focusing on the yards or time and not on what is happening within those laps. There's a constant need for speed but triathletes have trouble training smart sometimes. I see/hear it all the time.... "I have to swim 4000 today. I have to swim 200 more yards to get to 3500. I only have 30 minutes so it doesn't pay for me to swim today."

Just like with any sport (bike or run), it's very easy to get wrapped up in distance completed instead of focusing on drills and skills, as well as properly warming up before the workout. Sure, the body must be physically ready for the task at hand but a healthy and strong body will perform better than an overtrained, fatigued and injured or burnout body. For athletes who can't seem to make the time for the "extra stuff" because there's an obsession with miles/distance/yards completed, take some time to appreciate the small stuff and you will feel what it is like to train consistently with quicker performance gains. And who doesn't want that?

If you are wanting to get faster in the pool (or with any sport), here's what I would recommend:

-Spend a few weeks working on drills and skills. I know it may hurt your ego but accept your weakness as you acknowledge your strengths. In my pre-built 5-week transition plan there is a big emphasis on skills and form. Even more myself, who has been swimming for over 20 years, I spent a good 4-5 weeks after Kona this year using swimming as active recovery and keeping swims around 2000 yards, focusing mostly on drills without any speed. Karel who was not a born swimming and learned to swim later in his adult life, has addressed his form over and over and without swimming longer or harder it gradually became more natural to swim faster with proper technique. The transition plan focuses on lung capacity and stroke in the pool, hip/core and glute strength to help with running and single leg drills and cadence-focused sets for cycling.

-Get faster before you go longer. Rather than feeling stuck on accomplishing x-yards each practice, focus on time. Whether it is 45 or 60 minutes in the pool (which I have not swam more than 1 hour since Kona), your sets should be short and intense with adequate rest but should also use the good technique you worked so hard to develop.

-Build your endurance. Once you have a faster template to work with, you can gradually build with your endurance as you peak for your big race. Don't forget your drills and form-focused sets, however, especially when your training load does increase. Time your long swim sets appropriately for the time will come when you can accomplish more volume in the pool. I'm not saying that the occasional long swim is not a great confidence booster but my philosophy for training involves training with the least amount of training stress for the most performance gains.

Did you know interval training may significantly improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity, VO2 and aerobic capacity? Also, lower-volume, higher intensity intervals may also improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity. 

Consider a less-is-more approach in your triathlon "base" phase this year as you train smarter. Because research continues to show that many athletes will benefit from intervals to improve endurance, instead of the slow or steady long miles, get faster before you go longer. And this applies to all three sports for triathletes. 


Here are three workouts to help you get faster in the pool (so long as you have good form FIRST before trying out the sets) before you add volume to train your cardiorespiratory system even more. 

Warm-up and cool-down are choice based on how you are feeling and time constraints. Always be sure to do some dynamic stretching/stretch cords before you swim to warm-up the body.

Workout 1: 
Main set 3x's:
3 x 75's w/ 10 sec rest (keep same cycle as the first one)
1 x 75 EZ - rest 1 minute after this EZ 75, then repeat 2 more times

for the 3 x 75's you are adding on one fast 25 within each 75. So as follows:
#1: 25 fast , 50 EZ for a 75
#2: 50 fast, 25 EZ for a 75

#3: 75 fast

(900 yard main set)

Workout 2: 
Main set 4x's: 
2 x 100's fast on cycle (give yourself 15 sec rest from the first 100 as your cycle for all of the rounds)
Then go right into 50 EZ float (breastroke or back) after the 2nd 100.  
Rest 1 minute, then repeat three more times


(1000 main set)

Workout 3:
Main set: 
4 x 50's (25 fast, 25 steady) 10 sec rest
rest 1 minute
4 x 75's (25 steady, 25 fast, 25 steady), 10 sec rest
rest 1 minute
6 x 100's (desc 1-3, 4-6) rest 10 sec
rest 1 minute
300 @85% effort 
Rest 1 minute
8 x 25's (3 fast, 1 EZ (4 times total) w/ 5 sec rest

(1600 main set)


Adjust intervals/intensity as needed to maintain good form. 

If you are interested in other swim workouts you can check out my 30-swim workout plan to use throughout your training or fitness routine. 

Happy swimming. Or, as Dory would say: just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just swimming. 



12/19/13

Minty Chocolate Trail Mix Bark with coconut


As a dietitian, there are many food and lifestyle related topics to discuss when it comes to heart health. Last year, when I was asked by News4Jax to talk about the health benefits of chocolate and wine, I thought to myself, "this will be one yummy segment!" 


You can watch the segment HERE: EAT DRINK AND BE MERRY

As we all know from the media and research, dark chocolate packs a great heart-healthy punch. Although bitter to many, up to 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day (I recommend >60% cacao) alongside a balanced heart healthy diet is the way to go. Whether it is due to the nutrient compound found in chocolate or just the way it makes most people feel inside after taking one bite, chocolate alone has been shown to improve cardiovascular health (lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure), reduce inflammation, control appetite (ex. overeating/excessive snacking), increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood clot risk by improving blood flow and improve stress and mood. 

Now that's a great list of reasons for dark chocolate lovers! But even if you don't like chocolate, you don't have to start eating chocolate. There are many real-food options that have been shown to produce similar results for your overall health. 

A few ways to enjoy chocolate:
*Add 1 tbsp bittersweet cacao powder to smoothie, oatmeal or pancake/waffle batters
*Enjoy an individually wrapped piece of dark chocolate after two meals a day (most packages are ~.37-4 ounces) for dessert
*Enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate with an orange for a snack in the afternoon
*Add a little shaved chocolate to your coffee instead of creamers, sugar sweeteners or whipped cream (you can still splash with milk)
*If your body is OK with caffeine (and OK'd by your primary physician), choose 1/2 ounce dark chocolate with your pre-workout snack in place of the fat option that you would normally have (ex. instead of 1 tbsp peanut butter, have 1/2 ounce dark chocolate for the same amount of fat, ~4 grams)
*Savor your chocolate, don't devour it. Suck on a small bite of chocolate at a time and make it last instead of chewing it.
*Add chocolate to stews for a little extra hint of flavor

Remember that dark chocolate does have calories and fat but they appear to be heart healthy, so with these suggestions above, if you are seeking body composition changes, make some heart healthy swaps in the diet if you are wanting to add in chocolate to your daily diet. In working with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts, I find that individuals who like chocolate and make room for it in the diet, they end up having less cravings later in the day and overeating in the eating because they feel more satisfied with their diet. 
Karel and I always have a bar of dark chocolate in our refrigerator - always. It is a staple daily food in our diet and a necessary part in us having a healthy relationship with food. 

Minty Chocolate Trail Mix Bark with Coconut


Ingredients:
2 cups (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chips
1 x 6 ounce bag trail mix of your liking (or make your own trail mix, ex. cashews, peanuts, banana chips, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
5 Andes Mints
Pinch of ground/powder ginger 
Unsweetened coconut shreds
Parchment paper
Large cookie sheet (be sure there is room in the refrigerator for this to cool for 2 hours)
1. Spray a non stick cookie sheet (large) with cooking spray and then line with parchment paper. 
2. Melt chocolate in a medium-large stainless steel bowl placed over simmering water in a pot (about half pot filled). 
3. Use heat resistance spatula to stir chocolate together (you may need a towel to hold the stainless steel bowl for it will get hot if touching the pot of water). 
4. As you are stirring the chocolate, add in 5 Andes Mints (chopped) - you could also use peppermint extract
5. When chocolate is less chunky, add a tiny pinch of ground ginger for a little kick and stir in most of the chopped trail mix (lightly chop large pieces like banana chips and cashews with a knife or chop coarsely in a chopper for a few seconds). 
6. When nuts are combined, spread chocolate and nut mix on paper (be sure paper does not move on pan, you may need to secure or have someone help you) and you can add in a little of the trail mix to pop out from the chocolate.
7. After chocolate is spread on paper (it doesn't have to be an even square or rectangle) and there are no open spots to see the paper, sprinkle with a little coconut to dust the chocolate. 
8. Refrigerate for 2 hours and then break into pieces. 
9. Place a small portion into individual baggies and keep refrigerated (or in freezer) for a delicious snack, once a day or keep in a container if using for a (holiday) party. 

(This also makes a delicious holiday gift or dessert at a party or in the office - keep refrigerated as long as possible or place plate of chocolate over ice to keep cool)