Ready, Set, Sweat!

The New Year offers some trendy options to spice up your health and wellness regimen, but you still have to put in the work

The New Yorker recently published an article about a pill that seemingly eliminates the need for a workout: Just swallow it and get the same results as if you had exercised. One problem: At the end of the article, it’s revealed that none of the inventors had tried the pill—an ominous commentary on a supposedly miracle drug.

So, as we enter 2018, it seems there still is nothing that will take the place of sweat equity. But the good news is there are plenty of new and trendy health and wellness offerings to take your mind off the monotony of the typical gym—or home—workout. There are online challenges, innovative classes, “social” sports, fitness apps and clean eating.

Take the Plank/Squat Challenge

Planks and squats are two simple, basic exercises that have become the focus of online “challenges.”

The plank is a push-up like exercise with the body’s weight borne on forearms, elbows and toes. Its popularity has increased over the last decade or so, perhaps because it’s a total body workout, perfect for a toned core, requiring no equipment and only enough floor space to accommodate your body.

The squat has been around forever and is considered the king of lower-body exercises. The standard squat is done with a barbell resting on the person’s shoulders, but it can be done without weights.

Plank and squat challenges usually last 30 days, with participants tasked with gradually increasing the time in the pose every day or two. A plank challenge might start with holding the pose for 30 seconds and end a month later at three minutes. Like the plank, the squat challenge uses no weights, instead focusing its poses on the glutes, thighs and core. One online 30-day challenge starts at 50 squats and ends with 250.

Research suggests it takes an average of two months to make something a habit, so start now and you’ll be doing this on a regular basis by March.

Variety is the Spice of Life

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the hottest exercises on the health and fitness scene—for good reason.

Classes, typically 30 minutes or less, toggle between high and low intensity for increased fat burning. Instead of relying on steady-state cardio exercises (where your heart rate stays at a certain threshold), HIIT’s on-again, off-again intensity can lead to rapid results.

Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center, recommends HIIT.

Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center near Fourth Street and Greenhill Avenue, added HIIT classes a year-and-a-half ago. “It’s become one of the fastest growing parts of our business,” he says. “It makes up 15 percent of our membership base.”

In addition to HIIT, small group training has become increasingly popular. The reason? “Clients want to show up, work out (efficiently) in a social setting, and get good results,” says McCarthy.

Trainers cap sessions at 10 participants, so they can actively monitor everyone’s technique.

Bodies in Motion

Another trend is “functional fitness”—classes dedicated to making everyday movements easier. Think walking up and down stairs, playing football with the kids, and picking up bags of groceries.

Says McCarthy: “It’s the antithesis of the CrossFit image, which sometimes teaches improper technique and could lead to injuries. Clients are now hyperfocused on (proper) movement, which can improve balance, strength, flexibility and coordination.”

Located off Kentmere Parkway and Rockford Road, FIT Delaware provides a full range of fitness opportunities, including personal and group training. Trainer Todd Brown says he has noticed a big shift in the industry from last year’s focus on “traditional exercises by body part” to functional training. Brown likes to change the angles of exercise every couple of days. By altering the angles, his clients work a different portion of the same muscle. He sees the most success by working different muscle groups multiple times a week.

“This summer,” Brown says, “I worked with a couple of college athletes to get them in shape for the fall season using this methodology. At the end of our time together, they all thought they were much stronger at the beginning of the season than in years past.”

Body-Weight Training

Body-weight training or working without weights has become another in-demand alternative to using cumbersome, sweat-stained exercise equipment.

Body-weight training allows you to work out at home, in the park or even at the gym without any equipment. Getting started is easy and can consist of a couple of different exercises like push-ups, planks, burpees, jump squats, lunges, box jumps and more.

Social Sports

As we age, being and staying active becomes an important aspect of our lives. We often build our activities around our most important relationships—family and friends. And that’s how social sports started.

Locally, the movement led to the creation of two organizations geared to adults of all ages: Delaware Sports League and Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance (PADA)—Delaware satellite league.

“People are starting to discover that health and wellness are vitally important within our daily lives,” says Bob Downing, co-founder and owner of Delaware Sports League, headquartered in Wilmington.

“There has been a renaissance of thinking, specifically with young professionals, who realize that how we spend our time with ourselves and others is extremely important to our well-being.”

The league creates a less intensive exercise environment for people that’s accessible to every person, not just athletes. Says Downing: “We’ve evolved quite a bit over the years. In 2018, we are refocusing our mission on pairing physical and mental wellness together.” 

For those looking for a new challenge (or sport), there’s also PADA. Founded in 1985, PADA provides “opportunities to learn, teach and play Ultimate (frisbee) while fostering community, character and competition within the greater Philadelphia region.”

In Delaware, PADA provides opportunities for nearly 300 players per year and—since a key feature is its inclusiveness—it always welcomes new players. The league attempts to ensure that teams are “fair and balanced to create a fun and competitive environment,” says Andrew Wisor, PADA Delaware council member of the Philadelphia-based association.

If you’re interested in joining, Wisor suggests the spring league. “It tends to be the most beginner-friendly league because it’s when we get the most new players joining. There’s always a lot of teaching going on, both on and off the fields, from captains and players alike.”

Fitness at Your Fingertips

Too busy for the gym?  Maybe fitness apps are for you. They allow you to view videos anywhere—phone, smart TV or computer—making working out easy, fast and convenient for those always on the go.

Fitness Blender, for instance, provides “workout videos for every fitness level—absolutely free.” It’s an ideal solution for the workout beginner or those who may be intimidated by the meatheads at their local gym.

There’s also Daily Burn, a free, 30-day trial app that reverts to an affordable monthly paid plan for those eager for a more tailored plan led by professional trainers.

Clean Eating

In addition to exercise, clean eating is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Clean eating follows a simple list of tenets: eat less refined foods (no donuts and bagels!), eat more whole foods (produce, grains, etc.), eat less meat and limit sugar and salt intake. BBC’s Good Food predicts that this year veganism and plant-based proteins will be the trendy options at your local restaurant or grocer.

Karen Igou, owner and operator of Delaware Local Food Exchange, has been a leader in the clean eating movement from her store in Trolley Square.

“People know the basics to clean eating,” she says. “It follows what our mothers and grandmothers taught us. However, [clean eating] is not easy. Most of the focus is on healthcare (the results) and less on eating quality food [to begin with],” says Igou.

Delaware Local Food Exchange provides a bountiful selection of local produce, snacks, sundries and meat. Igou sources the highest quality meat and vegetable-based proteins for her customers and in-house prepared foods. Most popular is the grass-fed chicken salad, which can sell out within hours after it goes on sale.

Says Igou, “I’ve noticed a lot of customers going vegan for both the environmental and the health benefits. To meet demand, we stock fun vegan choices like enchilada pie, tempeh chicken salad and lentil loaf.”

In addition to clean eating, Igou says that her “typical fitness routine—yoga, meditation, core strengthening exercises, and a gratitude journal”—keeps her healthy.

While you might opt to skip the gratitude journal, you have plenty of options to choose from as you plan your 2018 fitness regimen. Join a gym, hire a personal trainer, or take a brisk walk. Just remember to eat well and move around a lot.

Giving the Gift of Experience

Some creative ideas for every personality type on your holiday list

This holiday season, let’s be a little more creative in our gift-giving. Instead of buying essentially inconsequential things, let’s think about creating memories. Here’s a list of fun, local experiences that the various personality types in your life will be sure to remember.

For the Art Enthusiast

Painting with a Twist has taken Delaware by storm with its mantra: Sip. Paint. Relax. Four locations in New Castle County offer a fun night out with step-by-step painting instruction from local artist instructors. Classes include all materials—easel, paint, and mat—as well as complimentary adult beverages and soda.

In addition to its typical lineup, Painting with a Twist Wilmington owners Stephanie and Jay Pomante host two recurring special events—Paint Your Own Pet (PYOP) and Painting with a Purpose.

PYOP allows you to submit a quality picture of your dog or cat (or other pet) to have it pre-sketched on your canvas by one of the instructors before you arrive to the class.

Bi-monthly Painting with a Purpose classes raise funds—50 percent of the sales—for a specific nonprofit organization. The 2018 February and March recipients will be, respectively, the Pennsville Community Arts Center and the Alzheimer’s Association.

1812 Marsh Rd., #409, Wilmington, 746-2907, paintingwithatwist.com.

For the Nature Lover

Longwood Gardens is “anything but dreary” during the winter months, says Patricia Evans, communication manager. New next year, in tandem with its Winter Blues Festival (to be held in March), Longwood will have blue flowering plants throughout the main conservatory.

“It will be filled with plants like poppies, hydrangea, cornelius,” says Evans. “The Conservatory will be a picture-perfect setting for amateur and professional photographers.”

In addition, there will be blue-inspired workshops and lectures like “Fabric to Dye For,” where participants will be able to make their own indigo dye vat.

Evans recommends purchasing a membership to save on food and classes. The best part about membership levels two and above is that “you can be flexible in who you want to bring to visit the Gardens,” says Evans. So bring your mom, dad, friend or significant other with you as you explore the great outdoors, indoors.

1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square, Pa., 610-388-1000, longwoodgardens.org

For the Handy(wo)man

NextFab’s Woodshop. Photo courtesy of NextFab

NextFab is Wilmington’s newest makerspace, where artists, woodworking enthusiasts, computer whizzes and entrepreneurs can learn, grow and make things. Located in the West Center City neighborhood of Wilmington aptly named the “Creative District,” the third NextFab (there are two in Philadelphia) occupies 10,000 square feet in a former photography studio.

Says Laate Olukotun, director of marketing: “November and December are the busiest times in the space because people (members) are making gifts for their family and friends.”

Plus, to get you into the holiday spirit, NextFab will offer “…a handful of holiday workshops like ‘Make Your Own Electric Snowflake,’ where you will solder and work with circuit boards,” says Olukotun. This class is open to members and non-members ages 10 and up.

In addition, new this year, NextFab will offer four woodworking class (gift) packs, which will include a fully guided experience through a series of discounted classes and include a NextFab membership. Here are the options:

$50 – Make Your Own Cutting Board
Pilot Membership:
• Access to classes for one month
Included classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Wood Preparation

$150 – Learning the Lathe
Pilot Membership:
• Access to classes for one month
Included Classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Intro to Lathe
• Bowl Turning

$250 – Woodworking Foundations
Community Membership:
• Three days/month for two months
Included Classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Wood Preparation
• Table Saw
• Finishing Basics
• Hand Tool Basics

$500 – Complete Techniques
Community Membership:
• Three days/month for four months
Included Classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Wood Preparation
• Table Saw
• Finishing Basics
• Hand Tool Basics
• Intro to Lathe
• Bowl Turning

503 N. Tatnall St., Wilmington, 477-7330, nextfab.com

For the Sports Fan

The 2018 Wilmington Blue Rocks offer entertaining minor league baseball. Instead of splurging for full or half-season packages, try one of the more affordable Mini Plans. There are three packages: 6, 9 or 12 games; day of the week, and the flex plan. All Mini Plan holders receive: A member gift (next year will be a Blue Rocks cap), an invitation to the member appreciation picnic on July 24, tickets to fireworks or giveaway games, and a flexible ticket exchange policy (and much more). In addition to those holder benefits, “each plan provides customers with a dedicated sales representative,” says Stefani Rash, director of ticket sales.

If the Mini Plan is not enough, give a full-season plan so your recipient not only receives a commemorative booklet, but also a plaque with his or her name on their season seat.

801 Shipyard Dr., Wilmington, 888-2015, milb.com.

For the Aspiring Writer

Have a budding writer in the family? Whether they’re bloggers, poets, fiction or nonfiction writers, the 2018 Bay to Ocean Writers Conference hosted by the Eastern Shore Writers Association has something for them. The Saturday, March 10, conference at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Md., will have hands-on learning workshops focused on the “craft of writing,” specific genres, publishing and marketing, and social media for writers. The keynote speaker will be critically acclaimed author Christopher Tilghman, author of five novels who teaches at the University of Virginia.

Register by the end of the year for the early-bird price of $95. Regular price is $120 for non-members; $95 for members; and $55 for students with valid ID. The registration cost includes continental breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and all sessions, including the keynote.

Chesapeake College: 100 College Circle, Wye Mills, Md., easternshorewriters@gmail.com, easternshorewriters.org.

For the Beer and Wine Aficionado

The Dogfish Head From Grain to Glass two-hour tour leads you through off-limit parts of the brewery for a more in-depth look at the brewing and distilling process. The tour costs $30 per person with a maximum tour capacity of 20, so register early. In addition to the beer and cocktail tastings, you’ll walk away with Dogfish Head pint and shot glasses.

During the off-months, tour times may vary, so call ahead to ensure tour start times. Tours are booked on a first-come, first-served basis and are for those 21 or older.
6 Cannery Village Center, Milford, 888-dogfish, dogfish.com.

Total Wine & More offers more than just libations and gifts. It also hosts various beer, wine and spirits classes for the serious enthusiast at its Claymont location on Naamans Road. Topics range from introductory wine classes to an advanced class focused on refining one’s palette (I hear Super Tuscan wines are quite fine). Total Wine & More also arranges private wine or beer classes for a minimum of 14 attendees up to the capacity for the room. Visit their website for a list of upcoming classes.
Northtowne Plaza, 691 Naamans Rd., Claymont, 792-1322, totalwine.com.

For the Rock Fan

Firefly 2018 pre-sale passes are now sold out, so why not head to Wilmington’s darling theater, The Queen. Now managed by Live Nation, The Queen has “turned it up to 11” with its rock-heavy lineup thanks in part to Talent Buyer Christianna LaBuz, who has brought more regionally and nationally known acts to the historic venue. Here’s a short list of notable upcoming performances:

February: The Wailers (2/8); Less than Jake (2/16);
Blues Traveler (2/22)

March: Anders Osborne (3/15); Drive-By Truckers (3/28)

Still interested in attending Firefly? It will be held at Dover International Speedway on June 14-17, 2018.
Or if your recipient loves all types of music genres, consider a digital music subscription to one of the popular streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music for an on-demand, ad-free experience.
Firefly: 1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 855-281-4898 (ticket support), fireflyfestival.com.

The Queen: 500 N. Market St., Wilmington, 730-3331, thequeenwilmington.com.

For the Athlete

Open from late November through February, the Riverfront Rink is the perfect place to bring the family or your significant other for a leisurely skate. The ice rink holds up to 350 guests and admission is only $8 for adults and $5 for children. Skates can be rented for $3 per person. Open skate is available Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. and skate sessions (1.5 hours minimum) are in effect Friday through Sunday at times posted on the website. The Riverfront Rink will be open through March 4, 2018. If you’re feeling extra generous this holiday season, the rink can be rented for private parties for 150 guests starting at $2,500.

308 Justison St., Wilmington, 650-2336, riverfrontrink.com.

For the Home Cook
(who takes pictures of all their food for Instagram)

Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) offers a wide range of personal enrichment courses for those who want to expand their knowledge or technical abilities. All courses are hands-on and led by a strong network of adjunct instructors.

“This spring, there will be a range of culinary classes including vegan cooking, dumplings and tapas, samosas and flatbreads, and sushi,” says Lisa C. Hastings-Sheppard, senior special programs director in the Office of Workforce Development and Community Education.

In addition to its culinary classes, says Hastings-Sheppard, “we offer three photography courses—introductory, intermediate and advance—which allow budding photographers to learn about technique, composition and most of all, how to capture a great shot.”

And to complement all the photos you’ll be taking, DTCC will provide a Photoshop class, where individuals can learn how to enhance and edit their work. The DTCC Continuing Education spring course catalog will be out soon, so make sure to check your mailbox.

George Campus, 300 N. Orange St., Wilmington, 830-5200; Stanton Campus, 400 Stanton-Christiana Rd., Newark; 454-3956, dtcc.edu.

Foods that Fight Colds

Bone broth, elderberries and fire tonics are some of the weapons you can use to fend off those winter maladies

Winter is coming and with it, cold and flu season.

The 2018 Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts that Delaware will see a “mild, wet” winter that will be colder than last year (but not colder than usual). And as the temperature drops, our biological response is to crave comfort foods and drinks—those laden with carbohydrates, sugar and fat. Coupled with a decrease in activity, that does not bode well for our health.

These foods, according to Henry Long, wellness manager at Harvest Market in Hockessin, create “an acidic environment,” which decreases our ability to fight off colds and viruses and causes unnecessary inflammation.

“Most of us have real, chronic cases of inflammation from high levels of cortisol and stress,” says Long. While inflammation is a normal, healthy response to injury or infection, chronic cases can make you more susceptible to getting and staying sick through the colder months.

Before you reach for over-the-counter remedies for winter maladies, consider a trip to the grocery store. You can bolster your immune system and perhaps avoid colds and other winter illnesses with items from the produce aisle. And even if you end up catching a cold, certain foods can help decrease the length of your sickness.

For guidance on the best foods and drinks that ward off colds, we got input from four local experts:

• Liz Freeman Abel, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and owner of free + abel, a “food + lifestyle” company based in Delaware.
• Sasha Aber, owner of Home Grown Café, Newark.
• Tricia Jefferson, licensed dietitian/nutritionist and director of healthy living and strategic partnerships, YMCA of Delaware.
• Henry Long, wellness manager at Harvest Market, Hockessin.

Color Counts

In selecting cold-fighters for your diet, go for color, says Jefferson. “We should eat a variety of colorful foods on a regular basis. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E and zinc, among others—which protect cells from oxidation or damage.”

Adds Abel: “Pick foods that are red, orange or yellow, like beets, carrots and peppers.” These bright-colored vegetables are high in beta carotene (vitamin A) and immune boosters.

In addition, Abel says that “eating locally and with the seasons keeps your body in sync with the rhythms of nature. Our eating (in the fall and winter) tends to mirror how we’re feeling, so stick with ground-based foods that are native to this area, like leafy and root vegetables.”

Here’s a handy guide to fruits and vegetables arranged by the color spectrum:

Red  apples, red peppers
Orange – oranges, sweet potatoes
Yellow – pineapple, sweet corn
Green – kiwi, spinach
Blue/Purple – blueberries, eggplant
Brown – ginger, parsnips

Not only are these fruits and vegetables appealing to the eye, they keep our immune system healthy and productive. For example, zinc is a water-soluble vitamin that we need on a regular basis; it can be found in “pumpkin seeds, spinach, animal proteins, oysters and mussels,” says Abel.

This fall Home Grown Café, known for its made-from-scratch food, will serve two dishes that will supply important micronutrients. The first is a traditional Belgian mussel dish made with Belgian beer (which will rotate depending on what’s on tap), garlic, shallots, fresh thyme, smoked ham, whole grain mustard, black pepper and fresh lemon. The second is a perennial favorite, a vegetarian southwestern chili made with pinto and black beans, peppers, onions, tomato, Chipotle peppers, spices, tortilla croutons and jalapeño.

For those looking for an all-natural preventative, try making your own elderberry syrup. All you need are dried or fresh elderberries, water and sweetener. Clinical studies suggest that it boosts our immune status, which helps combat viruses that cause the common cold and flu. Elderberry is also known to “reduce mucus by decreasing swollen membranes,” says Jefferson.

If you can’t find dried or fresh elderberries, Harvest Market carries a bluish-black elixir made from elderberries by Areté, a wellness company based in Chester County, Pa. Have a bottle ready before the chills and aches begin, so you don’t have to consume the terrible-tasting cough syrup we’re all accustomed to.

And, if you’re feeling super adventurous, consider preparing a fire tonic. As its name suggests, this tonic is a fermented concoction taken to warm the body and act as a homemade preventative to stave off infection and colds. The standard fire tonic includes a base made of apple cider vinegar and a mix of ingredients, usually horseradish, garlic, onion and ginger. These ingredients are placed in a jar and allowed to steep for a couple of weeks. After this fermentation period the concoction is strained and stored in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Take one tablespoon daily to boost your immune system (pro tip: add a drop of sweetener to cut the spiciness). If you feel it’s not working, increase your intake up to one tablespoon three times a day.

Warming Foods

As far as foods go, everyone agreed that hot liquids are the best remedy for cold-related illnesses. Not only do they raise our core body temperature, they also stave off dehydration.

“When we consume hot liquids, we breathe in the warm air, which helps moisturize nasal passages and soothe dry, scratchy throats,” says Abel.

And there is some merit in chicken (noodle) soup as the go-to remedy for when we get sick. Plan ahead and make a chicken bone broth before the fever and aches begin.

For those new to making broth, Long recommends using a prepared chicken in order to have it on hand once you’re sick.

Set aside one-third of the chicken meat for the broth (if consuming right away) and use the remaining two-thirds for other meals. Place bones and carcass in a large stock pot and pour water over the bones to cover. Add diced onions, carrots and celery in addition to salt, pepper and spices—parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary, to name a few. Let the broth come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. For the first couple of hours skim the surface of the broth. Then allow the broth to simmer overnight. Then strain, store in the ubiquitous Chinese soup plastic takeout containers and freeze for an entire season’s worth of bone broth.

Why is bone broth recommended? Says Long: “Homemade bone broth has many healthful properties. The salt soothes the throat; the herbs contain important phytonutrients, and the broth is rich in protein.”

In addition to chicken soup, tea and tisanes (herbal teas) were the favorites among our experts. They are readily available and an easy way to get warmth into the body. Though they all have different properties, they help us to stay hydrated during the cold-weather months.

Says Aber: “I drink tea year-round. It could be because Home Grown Café carries eight different teas and five herbal teas. We also carry Baba’s Brew Kombucha (a fermented tea that’s high in probiotics) on tap.”

The following are recommended teas and tisanes from our experts:

Echinacea is an anti-inflammatory herb that strengthens the immune system and may reduce the

length of sickness.

Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that also calms nausea. Add slices to boiling water with some honey for a simple tea made in under two minutes.

Green tea contains high levels of antioxidants. It’s readily available in loose leaf and pre-packaged varieties.

Licorice: Says Long: “Licorice tea is great for upper respiratory conditions because it acts as an expectorant that opens up the bronchial tubes.” Licorice is known to elevate blood pressure, so check with your primary care physician before consuming.

Turmeric is a fat-soluble herb in the ginger family. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is an anti-inflammatory that can be mixed with honey and milk for a soothing “tea.”

Other Alternatives

Taking care of the whole body while sick is just as important as eating healthy to stave off illness. Here are our experts’ personal recommendations for what they do when sick:

Jefferson: “When I start feeling off, I head to the sauna. It’s a way to relax and clear things out of our system by raising our core body temperature and killing bacteria.” Saunas are available at the Brandywine, Central, Dover and Western Family YMCA locations and are inclusive of the monthly membership.

Abel recommends counteracting stagnant indoor air by adding essential oils like cinnamon, orange and clove, or eucalyptus to “change the air quality and ease symptoms of a cold or flu.” Go one step further and add a couple of drops to a steam bath to open up nasal passages.

Long, who just recovered from a brief cold, recommended rest. “It means taking a break and for one day out of my life, a day to watch cartoons and nap with my son (who was also home sick).”

Aber advocates for “eating less processed foods in order to reap the full nutritional benefits.” This idea is reflected in the menu at Home Grown Café, which uses whole, nutrient-dense foods versus unrecognizable ingredients like potassium sorbate, a food preservative.

We all know intrinsically when our body feels out-of-whack before we come down with the cold or flu. Instead of fearing the worst, try adding these cold and flu fighting foods and drinks to your shopping list.

Fueling the Engine

Here’s your handy guide to both off-the-shelf and at-home energy foods and drinks

Looking to boost your energy throughout the day? Whether you’re trying to overcome the 3 p.m. slump or to increase your athletic performance, it’s important to select the appropriate foods to sustain your energy.

For guidance on the best off-the-shelf and at-home energy foods, I interviewed these six local health experts—nutritionists, trainers and athletes:

• Matt DiStefano, marketing manager at CoreTen Fitness, Wilmington

• Janet Glennon, owner of Toned by Janet, Wilmington

• Kate Mackie, RN, ACSM & ACE-certified trainer at Fusion Fitness Center, Newark

• Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center, Wilmington

• Nikki Mowbray, membership director and certified health coach at the Central Branch YMCA, Wilmington

• Laura Van Gilder, professional cyclist for Mellow Mushroom Racing Team

What I learned is that, one, I need to eat healthier, and two, all advice should be weighed against your specific nutritional needs, which depend on several factors: age, activity level, body type and hormones.

Also, when it comes to energy food, it’s important to consider your overall health and fitness goals—whether you’re looking to lose, maintain or gain weight and/or muscle. For this article, we’ll focus on macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein and fat—the basic components of any diet and the source of most of our energy.

According to Mowbray, healthy adults who want to maintain weight generally need a macronutrient ratio of “50 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 25 percent fat.”

For athletes and weightlifters, who generally want to gain muscle, McCarthy recommends a combination of 40 percent carbohydrates, 35 percent protein, 25 percent fat.

And for those hoping to lose weight, the macronutrient distribution shifts to 45 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 25 percent fat, says Mowbray.

Note: these ranges are estimates and should be based on your body type and nutritional needs.

So, how do these percentages factor into energy food and exercise? As shown in the chart below, our health experts recommend the following macronutrient breakdown to fuel your pre- , during, and post-workout. Keep these in mind when selecting off-the-shelf and at-home energy foods. 

PRE-WORKOUT DURING WORKOUT POST-WORKOUT
Heavy carbs and some protein 90 minutes to two hours before working out. “During high intensity workouts (it’s best to) sip an electrolyte-rich drink with sugar,” says McCarthy. Around a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates.

Off-the-Shelf Bars

Energy bars are convenient and tasty, but with scores of options, how do you choose?

“When looking for an energy bar, be a customer of the (nutritional) labels,” says Glennon. She recommends looking for energy bars that are low in sugar, made with whole ingredients, namely whole nuts, berries and grains, and if needed, high in protein. Go one step further, recommends Mowbray, and “look for bars that are low in trans fats and no added sugars.”

Some bars are marketed as protein or energy bars, but they may contain upwards of 20 grams of sugar, making them no more than “a glorified candy bar,” Mowbray says.

Finally, choose a bar based on when you’ll need fuel. Energy bars are excellent for pre-workout snacks, especially when combined with a balanced diet. They also are a great supplement both during and after endurance-based activities lasting more than a couple of hours.

“I always have a bar or two in my gym bag or in the car to bridge the gap between meals,” says DiStefano.

Sports Drinks and Gels

Need an alternative to Gatorade? Professional cyclist Van Gilder recommends hydration tablets—Nuun and Skratch Lab.

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Nuun; they’re just like Alka-Seltzer—dissolvable effervescent tablets. Pop them into the specified amount of water and enjoy fun flavors like Strawberry Lemonade and Tri-Berry.

Adds Van Gilder: “(Nuun’s) tropical flavors encourage me to drink when I otherwise wouldn’t.”

Nuun tablets are packed with electrolytes and are low in calories and sugar. Skratch Lab’s Hydration Mix is similar, but available only in powder form. With flavors like Matcha + Lemons with caffeine and Raspberry, both Skratch and Nuun offer a cheaper alternative to the well-known hydration brands.

For those who need sustained energy during intense workouts or competition lasting more than two hours, Van Gilder also recommends Gu Energy gels, which are easily digestible and a perfect way to get carbohydrates during strenuous exercise without causing gastrointestinal issues that accompany eating solid foods.

For post-workout recovery, many of the health experts recommended protein shakes. “Just keep in mind,” says Mackie, “that protein powders are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” so stick to reliable brands like Optimum Nutrition and PlantFusion. Both brands ranked high with the experts due to their high-quality protein and flavor varieties.

Here’s a roundup of off-the-shelf energy bars and drinks recommended by our experts:

NAMES CLAIMS BEST FOR NOTES
Kind Bars All bars are made from “nutritionally dense ingredients like whole nuts, fruits and whole grains”; no artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners. Everyone Recommended by a majority of the panel, Kind Bars are lightly drizzled with chocolate and are perfect for those with a sweet tooth.
Quest Bars High protein (20-21 grams per serving); no added sugar, soy or gluten. Athletes Mainstream choice for protein bar. Perfect for athletes needing a high protein bar to fuel their workouts.
RX Bars No added sugar; no artificial colors or flavors; no preservatives or fillers, and no dairy, soy, gluten or B.S. (yes, they claim that). Everyone Those who want real ingredients and no B.S.
LUNA Bars Non-GMO, no gluten, partially-hydrogenated oils, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors; also high in calcium, folic acid and iron. Made specifically for women, but men can indulge too. LUNA bars are one of the first bars created specifically for women. Owned by Clif Bar &
Company, makers of Clif Bars.
Kashi Go Lean Bars All bars have “multi-source plant protein,” are non-GMO and have no gluten. Some bars are vegan. Everyone For those who seek exotic flavors.
Epic Bars No dairy, gluten, grains, soy; low in sugar and high in protein. Everyone The only “paleo-friendly” energy bar on the list that is meat-based. Epic bars are perfect for those who want little to no sugar.
Nuun Hydration Tablets Low in calories and sugar; packed with electrolytes. Athletes Portable and easy-to-use. Multiple product lines: Active, Energy, Vitamins and Performance.
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix Non-GMO; no dairy or gluten; and vegan and kosher. Athletes No artificial sweeteners and portable (if you buy the individual sachets). Not all flavors dissolve due to the
“real” fruit.
Optimum Nutrition – whey powder High quality (100 percent whey). Athletes 24 grams of protein per serving. Also offers casein, soy, egg and blended proteins.
GU Energy Labs’ Gel All energy gels are vegan, gluten free and kosher. Athletes Ultra-portable sachets that are 100 calories per packet and high in carbohydrates for sustained energy.
PlantFusion – vegan protein powder No dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, nuts, shellfish, soy, or tree nuts; and no artificial flavors or preservatives. Athletes 21 grams of protein and 120 calories per 12-oz. shake.

At-Home Energy Foods

All-day energy doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all solution or “miracle” food. Our health experts stress the importance of continually fueling the body throughout the day and not getting to the point of being “hangry” (hungry + angry). Mowbray’s solution to fuel the 3 p.m. slump is to eat a “mini meal,” or 150-250-calorie snack that balances the right number of macronutrients—mostly carbohydrates and protein, with minimal fat.

Says Glennon: “Stay away from refined foods, which are low in fiber and can cause a glycemic spike, in addition to fatty and fried foods, which require a lot of digestion.”

Adds DiStefano: “What it boils down to is the preparation time. You’re bound to make less healthy choices when you have no options.” He recommends having a jar of peanut butter readily available
for when the “hangry” monster appears. His go-to snack is a PB&J smoothie with almond milk, strawberry purée, banana, peanut butter, spinach, flax seeds and protein powder (optional).

Or, if you’re in downtown Wilmington, head to CoreTen Fitness’ Smoothie Bar, which is open to the public. Stay energized throughout the day by filling up on these at-
home energy-packed foods:

AT-HOME ENERGY FOODS EXPERT’S TAKE
Dried berries & nuts “Trader Joe’s has a massive selection of dried fruits and nuts, so you can mix and match,” says Mowbray.
Fruit/vegetable with protein Carrots or peppers and hummus; apple or banana
and nut butter.
Eggs One of the most inexpensive, protein-dense foods available.
Smoothies Pre-measure frozen fruits into plastic bags for when the craving strikes.
Greek Yogurt “Try Chobani 100 or Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Greek yogurt. Both varieties are low in sugar,” says Mackie. “Mix with berries and nuts for a low-calorie yogurt parfait.”
Nut Butters A resounding favorite among all interviewed. “Stick with nut butters that have little to no added sugar,” says Mackie.
Water Stay hydrated with this free (sort of), zero-calorie drink.
Chocolate Milk A good, inexpensive, high-endurance, post-workout recovery
Whole grains Combine whole grains with protein to “hold you over” between meals. “Quinoa is high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats,” says Glennon.
Beans and lentils “Beans and lentils are low in fat and high in many micronutrients and fiber,” says Glennon.
Oatmeal with fruit “Choose non-instant oatmeal topped with fruit,” says McCarthy.

These are just a sampling of the energy food and drink options on the market. With so many out there, we encourage you to read the nutritional label carefully and use these energy food charts as a guide to fuel your engine throughout your day and your workout. Reference the charts to get started.