Monday, December 19, 2011

High protein vegetarian cooking: Ground seitan with lentils

I made a cooking show!!

I am a vegetarian, and since I am also an athlete, I have to make an extra effort to consume protein.

I also do not care for cooking. Not that it's not enjoyable, but it's just not how I want to spend my time.

So over the years I've come up with a few repeatable recipes I use. High protein, vegetarian (most are vegan), and easy.

I decided that these are things some of my readers might want to know. Most aerialists need to eat healthy, and I know I'm not the only vegetarian poler out there. So I finally went through with my plan to make a cooking show!

Here's the written version.

Tools: cast iron skillet
spatula or stirring spoon


1 package ground seitan (Westsoy or, in this case, Upton's Naturals)
1 can lentils
leftover vegetables (optional)
olive oil or cooking oil of preference


1. Pour seitan into oiled skillet. If you're using Upton's Naturals, you'll have to crumble it or chop it with a spatula.
2. Drain and rinse lentils in colander.
3. Add lentils to seitan and stir.
4. (optional) Add vegetables and stir.
5. Turn off stove and season to taste.

If you don't add vegetables, try to serve alongside. I prefer a fresh cucumber or tomato.

Easy, healthy comfort food for us busy vegetarian athletes. Bon appetit! (My mom made me add that part in.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Training when you don't have enough time

One of the primary complaints from polers is that they don't have time for all the training that pole encompasses. Learning moves, strength training, conditioning, flexibility, endurance, choreographing and practicing routines-- and all this on top of teaching, day jobs, schools, family, and just having a life. Basically, none of us have enough time for this, even those of us who do it for a living.

If you want to improve your poling but feel yourself extremely limited in the amount of time you have to commit to it, here are some ideas to help you maximize what little time you do have.

1. Get a good teacher.

A lot of polers are self-taught, and enjoy the challenge of figuring out moves for themselves. Or maybe they just don't have money for lessons, or don't know where to find a teacher near them. There are benefits to self-training, but there is the huge drawback that it is the least time-efficient way to learn.

A good teacher can look at a move that you could be frustrating yourself with for months, figure out on the spot what you're doing wrong, and tell you how to correct it. Sometimes it will be an instantaneous result, like if your positioning or weight distribution is off. Sometimes it will be a slow process towards correction, the path on which the teacher will set you, such as if you need to build strength or pain tolerance in a certain area. Either way, the idea is that the teacher can diagnose the problem quickly, and prescribe a remedy in a way that you can understand and execute.

Private, shared, or small group lessons are ideal for this. A class environment can work if it is a situation where you can get individual attention from the instructor, if only for a few minutes at a time. An overcrowded class where the teacher is just yelling out orders and demonstrating a routine will not be of much benefit as far as getting constructive feedback on your moves.

The idea is to find a teacher who is about two or more levels above you (this distinction being completely subjective, as there are no universally distinguishable "levels"), good at explaining moves and spotting mistakes, who can pay full attention to you. Training with friends and polers who are just learning to be instructors is fun and cheap, but not the fastest way to learn.

2. Get stronger

There are moves that are easier when you are more flexible, such as an iron X (the wider your straddle, the "lighter" you will be). There are moves that are easier when you are lighter, such as inverts (the less you weigh, the less you have to lift). But EVERY move is easier when you are stronger.

Aerialists who are physically stronger will usually advance much faster than their physically weaker counterparts. A strong person learning a new move can hold the position longer, fiddling with it until they find the positioning that works best for them. A weaker person might not be able to hold the move, thus has less time to think about it, and has to keep making fresh attempts. The catch: the stronger person is able to execute many attempts, while the weaker person will get worn out sooner.

I think teachers whose only advice to students is "get stronger" are not good teachers. At the same time, there's no denying that strength is one of the most useful skills in the aerial arts.

The good thing about strength training and conditioning is that it can be done without requiring much time, equipment, and space. There are plenty of bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere you're not too embarrassed to get on the floor, and many coaches will tell you it's harder to keep an athlete from overtraining than undertraining. If you're not sure what exercises would benefit you most, talk to your pole teacher or a personal trainer about your needs and time constraints. Make sure they understand what muscle groups you need to prioritize for what reasons, so they give you a program tailored to your needs, and not just something generic out of a magazine.

(See also my post, Building Strength for Pole: From Global to Specific.)

3. Let yourself train for shorter intervals

There's no written rule that says you have to train for an hour. It's rather an arbitrary amount of time. If you don't have time for an hour of training, you might have time for a half hour. What's wrong with half an hour? You can practice a three minute routine ten times in half an hour!

You need to make sure you leave yourself enough time to warm up. Beyond that, you make the call. Besides, once you get going, you might not want to stop. (But be careful not to overtrain!)

4. Cycle your priorities

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you can't do everything at once. You can't lose weight, build muscle, get stronger, get more flexible, perfect a routine, and master a smattering of new moves all in the same day. You probably can't even do them all in the same month.

This concept has two parts: 1. prioritize. 2. plan to change your priorities.

You can take 12 weeks to work on your dream moves, and then 12 weeks to work on your performance routine. That doesn't mean that's all you will do, it just means that gets top priority in your training schedule. You might dedicate 2 practice sessions to your routine for every 1 to new moves you want to learn. Or, you might dedicate 40 minutes out of an hour to your routine, then the last 20 minutes to new moves. Or vice versa.

Cycling is complicated in that there are a lot of variables. The important questions to ask yourself are, "What do I need to work on most right now?" (a new routine, losing weight), and "How long do I need to focus on that?" (until the competition, until the photo shoot).

Trying to master everything at once will overwhelm anyone, let alone those who already don't have the time. A little forethought in this will help you from burning yourself out.

Those are just a few ideas, but there are room for many more. I hope to do some more posts soon on how to organize your practice time, but this is a start. Hope it helps!

Image from The Vernacular Vicar

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My 3 food epiphanies

I'm a medium-sized person (thin enough to be an aerialist but not a model), and a moderately good eater (a vegetarian who loves cheesecake). As you'll surmise, my diet is "pretty good." I know how to lose weight when I need to, but most of the time I work a couple good sins into my daily food intake.

It's easy for me to complain that people think I don't have to work hard to be thin(ish) and in shape. But I think I'm guilty of the same thinking for other people. Sometimes you catch yourself unconsciously assuming that some people are just petite and some are just big boned, and for the most part we just adjust slightly upwards or downwards in our weight bracket.

Fortunately, I've had a few lightning-strike moments in my life where I realized things weren't always what that prescribed. I'd like to share my top three with you.

The first "food epiphany" I remember was just out of college. I was being really dedicated about taking jazz and ballet classes weekly, even though I didn't have a talent for them. Just for my music/theater career I had going on.

I was so disciplined that I even went to class on Valentine's Day that year. I was taking classes at a dance studio with my college ballet teacher. As you can imagine, she was gorgeous. Tall, thin, long legs, blonde hair, blue eyes, and of course, impeccably graceful.

Of course she should be thin. She's a dancer! She exercises hours and hours a day! She no doubt watches what she eats.

My revelation came as we were waiting for the class before ours to finish, standing around in the hallway. "Happy Valentine's Day, ladies!" the teacher smiled. "Are we all gonna go eat some chocolate after this?"

Long pause.

Then she burst out laughing. "HAHAHAHA!! YEAH, RIGHT! Maybe a chocolate Balance Bar!"

I was a bit taken aback, because I'd totally thought getting chocolate after class was a great idea when she'd said it. And that was the difference between size 6 me and size 0 her. I didn't think much of grabbing a sugary treat. She thought the idea of eating one piece of chocolate on Valentine's Day after a workout was preposterous, and assumed the rest of us agreed.

My second food epiphany happened in an airport. I forget exactly where it was-- Newark, maybe-- but the food court options were slim pickings. I fronced my forehead and reluctantly got in line at Subway as my best option.

Eating fast food when I'm not in the mood makes me feel fat. (When I am in the mood, it just makes me feel happy!!) It makes me feel unhealthy and icky. Looking around at the line I was standing in just confirmed that feeling. Everyone in front of and behind me was overweight. They all looked unhealthy. They didn't look like the kind of people you meet in New York (who are also usually the kind of people who think fast food makes them feel fat). They looked like tourists from states where everyone is just big. Probably some of them were, and probably some of them worked in the airport, and this was their best food option, too.

But slowly, as I waited my turn, I noticed something else, too. Every single every person around me, EVERY one, ordered a footlong (large) sub with both meat and cheese, a large soda, and chips or dessert. I ordered a six-inch (small) veggie sub. I don't think I even had cheese on it. I had a bottle of tap water with me, and did not feel I needed a snack on the side.

This was particularly telling, because we all had the same food options available to us. It's not like I could afford better food because I had more money. It's not a matter of who had time to cook. We were all a captive audience in this airport food court, and all in line at the same food stand.

My third epiphany came after a music performance I was in. We all went out for drinks (and eats) afterwards. A good friend of mine from circus class had come to see my performance, and we sat across from each other.

Most of the women (it was an all-female cast) around me were heavy-set. After we had all placed our orders, one of them piped up. "Can I ask, what did you two order?" she asked mischievously, pointing to my aerial friend and I.

"Huh?" I didn't know what she was getting at.

She explained, "They say if you want to lose weight, observe what the skinniest person at the table orders."

"Oh!" I laughed. "Rachel and I aren't skinny because of how we eat. We're athletes. We do aerial silks twice a week, we just burn a lot of calories doing that."

"Uh-huh," the woman said skeptically. "So what did you order?"

And then it hit me. "We're sharing one appetizer." She was right. Everyone else had ordered a full meal.

These three epiphanies are notable because they all involved unconscious, habitual choices. My ballet teacher didn't reject chocolate because she was on a diet, or because she was fighting a craving for it. In her mind, it wasn't even an option. I didn't order a small veggie sub with no extras at Subway because I was being health-conscious; it was my default. My friend and I didn't order less food than our tablemates because we were watching what we ate. Actually, we were probably just being cheap.

The choices made weren't choices. They were defaults. They happened, for better or for worse, without consideration.

I wish there was a button I could push when I ate a kale salad that said "set as default." Alas, it takes a little more effort than that. But less effort than fighting cravings every day for the rest of your life.

Image from Gracefully Saving.