15 Foods to Keep You Hydrated, Part 1

Welcome to the inaugural post in my Food Fridays series. This series is intended to be a source for useful info about food – from individual nutrients, through to great healthy recipes. Check back every Friday for something new! Now, without further ado… 🙂

As an exercise coach and personal trainer, I know the importance of being hydrated. As a normal everyday person with a crazy schedule, I know how challenging it can be to remember something as simple as drinking enough water. Yowza. I feel like that should be such an easy thing, but it isn’t. So how can we help ourselves?

In my earlier post on hydration, I mentioned that not all of our fluid intake needs to come from drinking fluids. In fact, approximately 22% of fluid intake in the average American diet comes from foods, according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition, the body’s fluid absorption is improved with food digestion – so it seems these high-fluid foods should help do the trick!

Here are 15 foods that have a water content of 90% or more, plus some of the other benefits:

  1. Cucumber, 96%: Cool as a cucumber, one cup of cucumber slices will give you 21% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin K, which plays an essential role in blood clotting, cardiovascular health,  and bone health, among others. You’ll also benefit from high levels of vitamin C, if you leave the skin on, and several of the B vitamins – just the thing to give you an energy boost.
  2. Lettuce & leafy greens, 92-96%: Different types of lettuce and other leafy greens like spinach or chard have different water contents, but they are all high. Along with a high water content, you’ll also be chowing down on mega doses of vitamins A, C, K, B9 (folate), as well as many minerals including potassium, manganese, magnesium, and calcium.
  3. Celery, 95%: Everyone’s favorite diet food, right? Celery will give you another boost of vitamins A and K, folate, potassium, and manganese. A stalk and a half will also give you about 6% of your RDA of dietary fiber, and celery has a high level of anti-inflammatory compounds. It’s pretty safe to say that you will not burn more calories eating it than are in it though – sorry.
  4. Radish, 95%: As well as the zing of flavor, radishes are high in vitamin C, which is important for your immune system. A half of a cup of radish slices will give you 15% of your RDA of vitamin C, and is packed with B vitamins. It’ll give you and your salad a bit of a boost.
  5. Squash, 95%: 100g, or about a cup of summer squash (think zucchini,yellow squash, pattypans, and the like), has more than 30% RDA of vitamin C and 10% RDA of vitamin B6. In case you were wondering, B6 is needed for over 100 cellular-level reactions related to your metabolism.  Added bonus – the same amount has approximately 3% of your RDA of protein.The bright colored skins of summer squashes are rich in antioxidants.
  6. Tomato, 94%: High in vitamins A, C, and K, copper, and potassium, a medium tomato will also give you 2% of your RDA of protein. It’s also high in antioxidants, especially lycopene, and consumption has been linked to improved heart health markers like lower cholesterol.
  7. Cabbage, 93%: Your cup of shredded cabbage contains more than 40% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, more than 60% of your RDA of vitamin K, and is very high in dietary fiber (7% of your RDA). Studies have also shown that cabbage is rich in cancer-preventing compounds.

There we go – the first half of the fabulous 15. One of the great things about this time of  year is that so many of these are in season right now. Make the most of it and check back next week for the rest of the list!

How To Be Hydrated

I can’t imagine I’m alone in this, but I grew up hearing all about the importance of drinking eight glasses of water a day. And now that we’re in the midst of another hot, humid, heavy, Northern Virginia summer, the importance of being hydrated becomes well… even more important.

Our bodies are made up of between 55%-75% water, depending on your age. Dehydration – when water loss exceeds water intake – occurs through sweat, excretion (urine and feces), breathing, and it even evaporates from our skin when we are just sitting around. Fluid losses affect your bodyweight; as little as a 2% loss can be detrimental mentally and physically. Effects can include but are not limited to:

  • Decreased endurance and motivation
  • Increased fatigue, heart rate, and feelings that things are more difficult (measured as ratings of perceived exertion)
  • Confusion, irritability, muscle cramps, and headaches may occur
  • Deteriorating psychomotor skills – things like hand-eye coordination
  • With more severe dehydration, delirium, dizziness, and fainting can also occur

The National Institutes of Health, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, tells us that most people need between 2.5 to 3 liters of water per day. This translates to roughly the same number of quarts, or about ½ to ¾ of a gallon, though extreme conditions (high heat and humidity, especially with high activity levels) can increase our needs to as much as 6 quarts (1.5 gallons).

Thirst actually plays a minimal role in our water consumption. Drinking water will of course contribute to our fluid intake, but food and other beverages have a profound impact on our intake. In the US, it is estimated that approximately 22% of our fluid intake comes from food.

So with all the complications of food, other beverages, and environmental conditions, how do we know when we are actually hydrated? Thirst might be the first answer that comes to mind – low body fluid levels leads to reflexive, regulatory thirst – but because it’s based on a deficiency, using thirst as an indicator means any drinking you’ll do will just be playing catch-up. It’s also important to note that children and the elderly have impaired responses to heat and fluid losses, so thirst is even less useful for them. Additionally, if you are in the midst of hard exercise or physical work, you are likely to drink less than you need to maintain good hydration. The bottom line is that you can’t always depend on how you feel.

For a better way of checking your hydration, do what the pros do: keep an eye on the color of your urine. Use the chart below as a guideline and match your urine to the closest color. Remember to watch the urine stream, as the water in the toilet will dilute the color.

Urine Color Chart for Hydration

If you find that you are in fact dehydrated, or your are well hydrated and want to stay that way, about a cup of water (8 oz) per hour is recommended. Or you can shoot for total fluid intake (including foods , water, and other beverages) of about 16 cups per day for men, or 11 for women. Frequently sipping your water rather than gulping it will help you body absorb it better, as will drinking with meals. Remember too, that if it’s hot, humid, or you’re working hard, you’ll probably need more!


Want some printable reminders so you can keep staying hydrated when you’re not here? Get the How To Be Hydrated PDF bullet-points sheet.



Enjoying Yourself? The New York Times Says It Helps.

Ask any of my clients and they will tell you I’m always saying that when it comes to successfully adding exercise to your lifestyle, you have to find what works for you. Now the New York Times is reporting on an unconventional new study that suggests that your attitude towards physical activity can influence your behavior afterward, especially with respect to eating, and subsequent weight loss.

The study has reported that women who were asked to go for a walk as purposeful exercise made more calorie-dense food choices at the following meal than women who went for the same walk, but asked to simply enjoy themselves.

While the psychology behind how we view exercise and what it means for subsequent choices is interesting, I’m not surprised to hear this. My most successful clients have  been the ones who have discovered how to enjoy their exercise, or more appropriately, have found a type of exercise or activity that they enjoy. When you are looking forward to your walk at the end of the day, rather than dreading it as a chore, you are much more likely to complete it and be consistent. This can lead to feeling better – not only because you are actually feeling better, but because you know you are doing something good for yourself and enjoying it, rather than feeling guilty for skipping it.

Some ideas for making your exercise more enjoyable:

  1. Going for an evening walk with a family member or friend. The time flies with good conversation.
  2. Listening to your favorite music while exercising. There is a considerable amount of research supporting the motivational ability of music. And it’s always nice to revisit some old favorites!
  3. Finding a recreational sports or activity group. Maybe you played a sport you loved when you were a kid – many local recreation centers offer adult sports leagues for all levels of competition, plus you gain a great new group of friends

You can read the full New York Times article here.

Four Great Stretches For Sitting

We all sit a lot.

Like many big cities, the Washington DC metro area has no shortage of offices filled with desks to sit at, and the Northern Virginia commute is notorious. We sit a lot at work, in the car, and when we get home, a lot of us sit down on the couch or at the kitchen table to relax. I have nothing against relaxing, but all that sitting can end up doing a number on our hips.

Our muscles are adaptive, and spending such long periods of time with little or no movement, and with some muscles in shortened positions, can cause stiffness in the hips. This in turn can lead to lower back and knee pain – two of the more common problems I hear about. Give your hips a break by stretching them out using these stretches.

1. Seated Figure Four Stretch

This stretch is great for your glutes and deep hip rotators, especially your piriformis. In the instructions, your bottom leg has foot on the ground, and your top leg has foot off the ground.

– Start sitting up with both legs out straight in front of you
– Cross on ankle over the opposite knee
– Bend the bottom leg, sliding the foot toward you
– Come as high as needed to achieve the right stretch for you

You should feel: A stretch through the glutes/outside bottom of the hip on the front leg.

Tip: If propping yourself up with your hands is too difficult, sit up against a wall and brace your back against it.

Seated Figure 4 Stretch

2. Pigeon Stretch

Stretches the same muscles as the figure four stretch, but uses gravity to help achieve the stretch. This can be more intense than the figure four.

– Start on hands and knees
– Slide one foot forward towards the opposite hand
– Slide the other foot backward away from the head, so the whole body slides backward
– Keep arms straight or lower torso by coming to elbows

You should feel: A stretch through the glutes/outside bottom of the hip on the front leg, and possibly through the front of the hip on the back leg.

Tip: Keep the front heel towards the opposite hip for less stretch, or work on getting the front shin perpendicular to the body for more intensity.

Pigeon Stretch

3. Kneeling Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch

Targets the hips flexors at the front of the hips, as well as the quads. All our sitting keeps these guys very short, which can have huge implications in lower back pain.

– Start kneeling on both knees
– Step on foot out in front – make it a long step
– Keeping your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders all in a straight line, drop the hips and torso forward
– Keep your bodyweight through your heel on your front foot, not your toes
– To increase quad stretch, wrap a towel around your back foot and pull the foot up towards your hips

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and possibly thigh of the back leg.

Tip: Use a folded up towel under your knee for a little extra padding if needed.

Hip Flexor - Quad

4. Short Adductor Stretch (aka the Butterfly Stretch)

A great stretch for the adductor muscles of the inner thigh, especially the upper (short) ones. We don’t think about them much, but they are highly active in both hip flexion and extension.

– Sit up straight with the soles of your feet together in front of you
– Let your knees drop down towards the ground

You should feel: A stretch through the along the inner thighs of both legs.

Short Adductor Stretch


Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these.


This article is has also been published at our sister site, Fix Fitness & Bodywork – Alexandria’s premier in-home personal training and massage providers. Visit us there if you want to exercise the sustainable way!

Burning More Calories After Exercise

There are personal trainers all the way from New York City to here in Beaverton, OR – in other words, EVERYWHERE – that will tell you all about how you should work harder during your workout so you can burn more calories after you workout.

We all know that we burn more calories at an increased rate when exercising, compared to the rest of a day. Some people may be surprised to find out that the personal training tip above is true: that you continue to burn calories at an elevated rate for some time after your workout, as well. While that sounds like good news, “burning more calories after a workout” is a fairly abstract statement. So before we all get too excited and head out for ice cream, let’s consider how much good this can actually do us.

When you do any sort of exercise, your body must create additional energy at a cellular level to power your muscles and movements. This energy creation requires the use of oxygen and fuel molecules from carbohydrates or fats stored in your blood, muscles, and other tissues. Your body will draw on these stores to meet its increased needs for energy.

In the recovery period that occurs once you finish your workout, the increased work happening in your cells doesn’t just stop. You can continue to burn calories as an elevated rate for a few minutes or for several hours, depending on the type of exercise you completed. There are several reasons your calorie expenditure might remain elevated after your workout:

1. Your heart rate and breathing will not return to normal rates immediately. While you’re catching your breath, your heart and lungs are still working hard, and still require extra oxygen and stored fuels.

2. You need to replenish the stored oxygen and fuels that you used during your workout. Not only does your body need to refill it’s oxygen stocks in the blood and muscle, it uses even more oxygen to power cellular processes that form and replenish our fuel molecules and remove cellular waste products.

3. You are hot, hot, hot. Exercise increases your body temperature. Thinking back to high school chemistry, you likely learned that heat speeds up chemical reactions. That is essentially what is happening at a cellular level when we exercise – everything gets hot, reactions between oxygen and fuel molecules speed up, and we burn more calories in a given time.

4. Some scientists have proposed that increased levels of hormones can elevate your metabolism. The hormone adrenaline, for example, works in the body to increase heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and increases availability of fuel molecules for the muscles, among other effects. Once you stop exercising, these hormones will take several minutes to clear from the blood stream. As long as they are hanging around, your body is working a little harder and burning a little more fuel.

The intensity and the length of your workout will determine how long your post-exercise calorie burning will last. Lower intensity workouts will need to last longer to produce this effect – and even this is relative. To get the maximum out of your post-exercise burn while working at a moderate to hard level, you would need to maintain your effort for around fifty minutes or more. On the other hand, an effort lasting six minutes could be enough to prompt an increased calorie burn for up to 24-hours – if you were working at level 11 out of 10. Even if you put your maximal effort in for the longest possible time you could, the calories burned after your workout would only be about 15% of your total calories burned overall, and this percentage is usually lower. Rather than banking on it as part of your workout, it’s probably much better to consider your post-exercise calorie burn as icing on the cake.


This article is has also been published at our sister site, Fix Fitness & Bodywork – Alexandria’s premier in-home personal training and massage providers. Visit us there if you want to exercise the sustainable way!

What is it? – Isometric Exercise

A friend of mine was asking me recently about isometrics. She had been hearing about them in a group exercise class, but the instructor didn’t exactly explain them (hard to do in the middle of class). Isometrics are nothing new in the world of strength training, but they can be a useful training technique.

Muscles can be under tension, or contract, in three ways: while shortening (concentric contraction), while lengthening (eccentric contraction), and with no change in length – the isometric contraction. During a strength training workout, isometric contractions are the “pause” sometimes used at a specific point during the movement (not the exactly the same as a sticking point, though they can be helpful in those sticky situations). Sometimes they are used as just another tool in the toolbox of strength training, to provide some variety and a different type of muscle stimulation for those who have been lifting weights for a while. However, isometrics can have specialized uses as well.

To get just a little bit science-y, we should take a detour around isometrics for a minute to think about the how lifting weights as a whole can affect muscular strength. Strength gains are specific to the angle of the moving joint, meaning that muscle only gets strong at the joint angles where it is exposed to external load. A small range of joint angles, or range of motion, could be illustrated by skipping rope, with little bend at the knees and hips. A larger range of joint angles would be seen when squatting down to jump as high as possible, with significantly more bend in the knees and hips. If you were holding something heavy and moving through those same ranges, you would either get stronger through a small range, or a large range.

Additionally, muscle fibers have different force-producing abilities at different lengths. The length-tension relationship tells us that a muscle has a length where it can produce maximal force. Anything longer or shorter than that will produce less force, to varying degrees. In the real world, that means that if you are doing an exercise through full range of motion, some parts of that exercise will be harder than others.

To gain the full benefit of strength training exercises, the full range of motion should be used where possible – that is, when you have the ability to move through the range with good technique and no pain. The hard spots in the movement are where isometrics can really play a starring role. Used in both a rehabilitation setting, and to help break plateaus in training progress in healthy exercisers, an isometric pause at the weakest point of a movement can increase strength at that specific point. They can be used as an exercise in and of themselves, for much the same purpose – everyone’s favorite wall sit from gym class is a great example. At the end of the day, isometrics aren’t a must-do for novice healthy exercisers, but it never hurts to know your way around a training technique or two – you’ll never know when you might need it!