Athletes Corner

10 Tips for Eating Clean on a Budget

Photo by Kelley Melvin

Photo by Kelley Melvin

One of the most common excuses and/or complaints I commonly hear regarding making the switch to a whole foods diet is that it’s too expensive.  I won’t argue with you that grass fed meat and wild fish are pricier than Hot Pockets and Pizza Bites. By buying organic and making your meals from scratch using real food ingredients, you will no doubt notice a jump in the grand total on your grocery receipts. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that there are ways to eat clean and save $green$. You can also think about it this way – eating high-quality, nutrient-dense whole foods is an investment in your health. By spending a little more each week now, your healthy and disease-resistant body will actually save you in medical bills and expensive treatments later on!

Even on a tight budget, you can make small upgrades that will have a massive impact on your health for the better. Below are some thrifty tips for transitioning into a more plant-based, healthy and happy lifestyle:

Budget and meal plan

First step, set a comfortable budget. Then take a poke around in your fridge and pantry and see what kind of goodies you have in there to work with. (While you’re in there, throw out the ‘frankenfoods’ with the unrecognizable ingredients.) Then, peruse a few recipes that look good to you (I’ve got some on my blog to get you started) and make a meal plan. This planning step will be crucial to setting you up for an economical and organized week!

Don’t shop when you’re hungry

Now that you’ve meal planned and written your shopping list, you should be able to whiz around the grocery store with your game face on.  Try to avoid shopping when you’re hungry. This sets you up for knee-jerk spending and budget leaks because that $7 bag of refined-sugar-free coconut macaroons is irresistible when your tummy is empty.

Buy bulk

Head to the bulk bins to stock up on pantry staples, like beans, grains, nuts, seeds, coconut, and dried fruit. There is also a bulk section for herbs/spices in most grocery stores. If you are following a recipe and only need a teaspoon of garam masala or a quarter cup of raisins, you can get just what you need without buying the whole jar or pack.

Shop local

Farmers markets are an awesome place to buy local, organic and seasonal produce on a budget! When produce is in season and abundant, it’s almost always going to be cheap. Not only will you be saving money but also you’ll be eating nature’s harvest which is definitely the healthiest, most cyclical way to nourish your body.

Get Familiar with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15

Do you want to eat 100% organic but can’t justify those tiny organic avocados that cost $3? I hear ya! The Environmental Working Group does a great job of outlining which produce items are most and least contaminated with pesticides. They make it easy to prioritize your purchases. Check out their website here, and their iPhone app here.

Buy frozen

Supplement fresh produce with frozen. When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. When fresh produce is limited, especially in the winter, buying frozen can be your best bet for lower prices and a higher concentration of nutrients.  Skeptical about frozen? Learn more about how they’re pretty awesome here.

Cut back on dining out

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going out to dinner just as much as the next girl. BUT I am very aware of how dining out, especially when it involves a glass of wine or two, ain’t cheap! It’s totally worth it for special occasions, etc. but instead of making dining out something you do on the reg, open up an exciting cookbook and make your kitchen the new hot spot. You’ll eat cleaner and save some coin.

Batch cook

Batch cooking saves time and money. It’s an excellent way of setting yourself up for ease in preparing nutrient-dense home cooked meals instead of resorting to take out, which we know adds up fast! For example, spend a couple hours on Sunday making a pot of soup, a batch of beans, and a batch of grains. Then when you get home from work at 6:30pm tired and hungry, you can pull together a meal in 10 minutes by adding in some fresh veggies.

Get creative with leftovers

I’m a huge proponent of ‘cook once, eat many times.’ When I cook a dish, I usually make it serve 4-6 so I get at least a few more meals out of it. This goes hand in hand with batch cooking. If I have three cups of cooked quinoa in my fridge, for example, I might have quinoa porridge on Monday morning, toss it with a few veggies and my Asian dressing for lunch on Tuesday, and then have it under a piece of salmon for dinner on Wednesday…. You get the jist. Also, if your produce has been in the crisper drawer too long and is looking a little sad, don’t toss it out! Wilty produce provides a perfect opportunity to make a veggie soup!

Grow your herbs

It is certainly more economical to grow your own food, especially when those organic herb packets at Whole Foods cost $3 a piece. For those of us in the middle of downtown where having your own veggie garden is impossible, there is still room for a few pots of herbs.  I have mine in a hanging basket over the balcony. A packet of organic seeds is only a few bucks or, even easier, you can pick up potted herbs at Whole Foods and just put them in your own pots. Parsley, cilantro, mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, etc. – pick your favorite and have your own herb babies. All you have to do is water them!

As you can see, there are lots of ways to make a plant-powered diet work for your wallet if you are willing to put in a bit of time for planning and you’re smart about your purchases. When my food expenses start creeping up, it’s usually because I’m buying things like those $7 coconut macaroons, not because of my produce-packed shopping cart. Create new thrifty habits by trying out one of the above tips this week.

Do you have any other money-saving ideas to add to the list?

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Sleep for Athletes: Part 2 of 3

In my first post on the subject of sleep, I discussed why it is important to get an adequate amount of high quality sleep, especially for athletes in training. It is important for health, recovery, body composition, and performance increases, among other things. I hope I convinced you! You might be wondering whether you are getting enough. As an athlete, getting the low-end of the recommendation (7 hours) might be leaving you chronically sleep deprived without you realizing it. So today, here are four main signals from you’re body that you are not actually getting the sleep you need.
  1. You’re constantly hungry…. And you eat a good breakfast, and have not recently increased your training. A recent study has found that a person’s sleep is linked to hunger – in that the less sleep you get, the more hungry you feel. The mechanisms of this relationship are found in ghrelin, which the sleep-deprived body produces in higher levels. This is the same hormone that triggers hunger. And unfortunately, high levels of ghrelin do not stimulate fruit and veggie seeking, but rather increase cravings for salty, fatty foods and refined carbohydrates. This also explains why those who do not get enough sleep are more prone to weight gain. So if you find yourself feeling ravenous, despite adequately fueling your training needs, and reaching for
  1. You find yourself more emotional, easily tearing up over seemingly trivial matters. While women might be quick to blame hormonal fluctuations or PMS, a lack of sleep could be sending your emotions off the deep end and disrupting your ability to manage normal stress. A 2007 study showed that participants with sleep-deprived brains were over 60% more reactive to negative images than those with adequate sleep. That same study also showed that lack of sleep elevated activity in areas of the brain associated with depression and other psychiatric disorders.
  1. You’re less focused, and tend to forget things. In our culture where business and exhaustion are arguably seen as status symbols, it can be easy to attribute less focus or forgetfulness to our hectic schedules or overflowing inboxes. But you should think twice before ignoring this warning sign – lack of sleep has been shown to cause significant cognitive impairments, negatively affecting complex thought, logical reasoning, focus, memory, decision making, memory, and new learning.
  1. You’re constantly fighting off the latest seasonal bug. Very few things can be more frustrating for an athlete then having a high-volume or high-intensity training block planned, and being forced to take unplanned rest because of illness. Although ignoring your body plea for rest and training hard while sick is a horrible idea and a recipe for long-term disaster, it’s more ideal to not get sick in the first place. When you consistently get enough sleep, you are helping your body build a better defense against illness, and thus will actually maximize your training. I recently saw a facebook post of a fellow bike racer talking about extreme business, as she combined work, training, and a family life (no small feat to be sure!), and stated that sometimes she actually trained more hours than she slept. Although that might seem like an athlete badge of honor, it is really quite silly, and setting yourself up for failure. Research has shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a night are more than three times more likely to catch a cold… and that’s before taking into consideration the stress an athlete’s training puts on his or her body. Until recently, sleep-specialists knew of the immune-suppressing effects of sleep deprivation, but didn’t know how or to what extent. A new study has changed that, which has shown that even slight sleep deprivation can disrupt the immune system’s ability to regulate itself. “Very small disruptions in sleep, very small losses in terms of duration of sleep, were associated with pretty big increases in your probability of getting sick if you’re exposed to a virus,” said Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and the first author of the study. “It’s not just insomniacs or people being deprived of sleep.” And after controlling for many other health factors, the longer participants slept, the better their bodies’ were at fighting off infection.
So if you want to better manage hunger and emotions, maximize brain capacity and avoid sickness, get in bed a bit earlier, and give your body the full 7-9 hours it needs (note: this number is typically closer to 9 if you’re an athlete training more than 12 hours a week).

Squeezing in a little nap with my then puppy, who’s now an 80 lb doberman. She’s pretty fond of sleep as well!

 Next up, practical tips to get the quality and quantify of sleep we need. Because I happen to understand the frustration of knowing how important sleep is, and yet having it elude you when you want it most.Reference sites:  
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Sleep for Athletes: Part 1 of 3

Ahh sleep, that magical ingredient to success that is so often pushed to the backburner. If sleep were optional, I’d probably opt to use the time in some more “productive” way. Think of all you could get done with 7-9 more hours a night?! However, the fact that sleep deprivation is used as method of torture is a salient example of how vital it is to our health and wellbeing. Like food or oxygen, without it, we will die. And athletes, far from being an exception to this rule, arguably require it more desperately than your average adult.
In studies where sleep was restricted to less than 6 hours a night, participants have consistently shown impaired cognitive performance and mood, altered glucose metabolism, appetite dysregulation, and compromised immune system. These and other findings provide the basis for the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation that people between the ages of 18-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep.
How much of us pay as much attention to our sleeping habits as we do our eating or exercise routines? The reality is, we spend (or should spend) 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so doing what we can to maximize its quality is in our best interest. If we have our training dialed in to the heart beat, and our nutrition planned to the calorie, why is it that our sleep gets pushed to the back burner of priorities? Although the majority of studies have not focused specifically on athletes, adequate sleep has been consistently recognized as an essential component of both preparation for and recovery from athletic events.
Exercise depletes energy and fluids, breaks down muscle, and causes both acute and chronic hormonal responses. In addition to rehydrating and refueling, sleeping plays an important role in keeping the body in balance and able to adaptively respond to training demands. Sleep deprivation, like overtraining, has been seen to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone, when chronically elevated, can lead to adrenal fatigue and consequently, decreased performance, weight gain, spikes and drops of blood sugar, increase carbohydrate cravings, and decreased recovery between training sessions.
If you’re struggling to attain the results you’ve been hoping for in training or competition, I’d encourage you to take a second look at your sleep. Optimizing quality and quantity of sleep can be winning ingredients. So instead of fighting sleep, or looking it at some unfortunate requirement before moving on to the next day, let’s embrace it as a daily reminder of the importance of recovery.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll share some common warning signs that you might not be getting enough sleep. Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you, it’s smarter than you may think!
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Drink to Your Health!

I’m a huge fan of regular efforts to keep the body happy and healthy. Actions to proactively facilitate the body’s detoxification process need not be constrained to a yearly detox program, although an annual or semi-annual more intensive cleanse can be a great component of a healthy lifestyle. Today I’d like to share a simple, real-food recipe for daily detox. If you’re currently participating in Dr. Reddy’s 21-day detox, this recipe fits seamlessly into the cleanse, and can also be regularly incorporated into your diet post-cleanse. Remember, the cleanse isn’t meant to be something you quickly abandon on day 22, but should teach you some new habits you’d like to maintain.
So today I’d like to share a simple, real-food recipe for daily detox. Whether you’re participating in DSR’s cleanse or are simply looking for an way to add more powerful nutrients into your daily diet, this recipe can be easily incorporated.
You don’t need an expensive juicer or vitamix… Most high powered blenders will do the trick. Simply chop 1 apple (I used 1/2 a green, 1/2 a fuji), 1/2 whole lemon peel and all, 1 inch turmeric root, 1 inch chopped ginger, and 1 cup of water, and blend! (Try to use organic ingredients of at all possible). I like to drink this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach before breakfast, but is also great as an afternoon pick-me-up.
Drink to your health with this whole-food blended elixir.

Drink to your health with this whole-food blended elixir.

This little potion is great for improving energy, the immune system, digestion, and lots more. Here’s why:
Apple: These crisp, sweet fruits are known and loved for their delicious taste and health-promoting properties, thanks to their high levels of Vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, dietary fiber, and phytonutrients. This powerful combination helps to improve neurological health, reduce risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, maintain a healthy weight, lower levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, and ward off a variety of cancers.
Lemon: As an excellent source of powerful antioxidants and vitamin C, lemons fight the formation of free radicals that cause cell damage and cancer. Its high levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants also boost the immune system, play a role in maintaining healthy complexion, keep the cardiovascular system healthy, reduce risk of stroke, protect against arthritis, activate liver-boosting enzymes, and improve mineral absorption.
Ginger: This root has been used for centuries for its many medicinal and therapeutic properties. Traditionally, it has been used to alleviate GI distress and improve digestion, but more recently research has shown it to have powerful anti-inflammatory (rivaling NSAIDS), antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties. Studies have also shown that ginger plays an important role in detoxification by protecting against toxic environmental chemicals and reversing liver damage. The warming effects of this powerful root also improve fat metabolism and promote healthy sweating, which is essential for your body’s natural detoxification process as well as fighting off infections.
Turmeric: This bright root has been used across the globe for its many nutritional and medicinal properties. It is commonly added to dishes for it’s unique flavor, but has also been relied upon for thousands of years to treat a variety of health conditions. Curcumin and its other phytonutrients improve blood glucose and regulates insulin, heal digestive tract damage, help mitigate harmful affects of carcinogens in the diet and environment, improve liver function, protect against alzheimers, reduce the risk of cancer, and reverse damage to cellular DNA. Turmeric is also a powerful immune booster, thanks to its high levels of a substance called lipopolysaccharide, which stimulates the immune system, as well as it’s other antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral agents.
Now that’s something you can raise your glass to. Cheers!
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New Year Call To Contemplation

We’re now exactly one week into 2015. Maybe you’re the type A person who, on December 30th, had your New Year’s resolutions typed up, organized by category, and put up on the fridge. Or maybe you don’t believe in making resolutions, because you’ve failed too many times to count. Then some of you might find yourself in the middle.Whether the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions inspires or frustrates you, I think everyone can relate to some of the principles behind it. Think about 2014. It may have been a year of change, challenge, joy or pain, some of it within your control, some of it completely unrelated to anything you might have done or chosen.Now ask yourself, is there anything you want to be different about 2015? Although I am a health and exercise professional, this article may come as a breath of fresh air, because I am not going to throw catchy fitness phrases at you or admonish you to be healthier. I’m quite sure you already know that eating well and exercising more are in your best interest on so many levels. Rather, I am asking you to take a moment to reflect on what it is you really want in 2015. For just a moment, do not allow self-doubt or excuses or even logic to take up any space in this contemplation. What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?I know I promised to leave out all catchy quotes (such as “sweat is fat crying”… what? No it’s not…. I’ve always hated that one), but one almost childishly simplistic phrase has been profoundly action-inspiring. “If nothing changes nothing changes.” This seems like a no-brainer, but so many of us live as if this wasn’t true. The harsh reality is that very little in life will change without purposeful, toilsome effort. Exercise is hard. Eating well, consistently, takes a well thought-out plan. Pretending otherwise is counterproductive.Next week I will share some practical tips for sustainable change, but I wanted to start out the new year with a call to contemplation. Think about what you want out of this year, what changes it might take to become the person you long to be. Be gentle with yourself. No matter how you’ve succeeded or failed in the past, 2015 is a new year.
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The Most Important Most Forgotten Piece of Training

There are several things that distinguish elite athletes from those just trying to do the bare minimum to stay healthy or look decent in a swimsuit. One is the relentless pursuit of excellence, and an unquenchable desire to be better, stronger, faster, regardless of what it takes. This is a mentality I’ve seen in almost all elite athletes, and in all that separates the breeds of athlete, this is one that brings us all together.This is why it is surprising to see an overwhelming number of chronically over-trained, under-recovered athletes. I can speak personally to the world of elite endurance athletics, but I’m sure this common tendency is not isolated to runners, cyclists, or nordic skiers. The same athlete that meticulously counts macronutrients, perfectly times pre and post workout meals, sips water while others are chugging beer, and logs 15+ hours of focused training each week, may be simultaneously neglecting one of the most important components of performance. Even when doing everything in their power to chase success, they may actually be sabotaging the very thing they have sacrificed so much for.Other than the genetic freaks, which I’ll leave out of this discussion for the time being, one thing I’ve noticed that separates the top athlete from the mid-pack finisher is the prioritization of recovery. On a purely rational level, it makes sense. If you work hard, you should rest a bit. If you break down your muscles, until you somehow let them rebuild, that LT interval will be meaningless. However, what makes sense logically and what we actually do as athletes are often two different things. The same drive and passion and ability to withstand ungodly measures of pain that makes an athlete great also, by a sardonic twist of irony, has the power to destroy her.Recovery is absolutely critical if you want to progress in your sport. Training is vital, of course, and nutrition cannot be ignored. But even if the latter two have been dialed in, without proper recovery, you are on a crash course to burnout. The conviction I have is not because this is easy or intuitive, but actually just the opposite. It’s only been through the experience of burnout, forced recovery, wrestling with myself, and seeing tangible results after what I previously deemed to be “laziness,” that I’ve become an ardent convert. A few years back, after a particularly grueling season of racing, my coach prescribed a month completely off the bike. My then boyfriend, now husband, was instructed to hang up my trusty steed in the garage where I wouldn’t see it, and under no circumstance would I be allowed to ride before the month was up. I was annoyed. I understood her motive, but it just seemed so extreme!People often ask me why I have a coach. I have double degrees in psychology and physiology, an internationally recognized strength and conditioning certification, and coach athletes of my own. On paper, I could be my own coach. I know how to train, what to eat, etc. But when all is said and done, athletes don’t just need a coach to tell them how to push their body, but how to rest their body. Now, several years later, I hold that end-of-season, off-the-bike month as almost sacred. I saw how taking some time away recharged my mind, replenished my muscles, and reinvigorated my desire to train and race.Obviously an entire month off the bike isn’t a sustainable form of recovery, as we only have 12 of them in the year! Recovery isn’t something we should do at the end of a long season when we are at our breaking point, but rather something we should purposefully invest in and integrate into our daily, weekly, and monthly training routines. Over the next few weeks I will unpack what that means a bit more, with specific ideas and tools you can use to support your training. Whether you are a weekend warrior enjoying the fun of competition or an elite athlete trying to attain a .5% improvement that means the difference between 1st and 50th, focusing on recovery with the same intensity that you focus on your intervals may be one of the best things you do for your performance and long-term health. You will be more motivated, get injured less, train harder, progress faster, and race happier.
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