Smoked Salmon + Butternut Salad

Let's talk for real right now.

Like, I could totally sit here and be okay with just sharing this yummy salad with you and telling you how you should get into it.  I mean... you SHOULD try it.  That's why I made it for you, after all.  Well, actually, I made it for me and then realized it was definitely worth sharing... but same difference.

All the things I'm loving right now put in one big bowl.  That is this salad.  Since I made the butternut squash ahead of time, it took me about 5 seconds to put this together.  It also just so happens that all these ingredients are really helpful with reducing body fat and satisfying hunger!  True facts.  

Butternut Squash + Smoked Salmon Salad - a few simple ingredients that will boost your metabolism to help burn fat! #cleaneats

As great as that is, we can't be done there today.

I want to be up front and real with you.  I think we should talk about about some of the interesting stuff I learned on my recently accomplished "journey" as a first-time bikini competitor.  

I've gotten a lot of {awesome} questions about what I've been through, and just as many about what's happening with me now.  I realized many of you are wondering the same few questions.

Yep - I'm smart.  I realized this after answering the same question in full detail about eight times in a row.  Hey... maybe it would be helpful to just tell everyone once?

Alright, I did plan to spend a post or two divulging my newfound insight on the body-building world anyway... but it is certainly nice to know that you really do want to hear about it!

The first part of "real-talk" is for us to not be strangers.  A tiny bit of background on me will help ya'll understand where I'm coming from.  And by "ya'll" I mean "I'm from Arizona but I still say ya'll sometimes, for fun."

You might already know, but I like to work out.  Yes, this is true.  Since about junior year of high school, I've been getting myself to the gym on an at least semi-regular basis - if not practically living there between working at a gym and working out.  At the same time, I've never really been involved in any organized sports teams, and have never had anyone but myself as a coach.  Unless, that is, you count my high school PE teacher and all those people who didn't know I was racing them on the track.

My personal experience with the fitness world so far, until, you know, 3 months ago, has been mostly A) group fitness classes - taking and later teaching them B) becoming an AFAA certified personal trainer, and C) training myself in the weight room occasionally and without too much commitment. 

Basically, I was fit, I was healthy, and I wasn't worried.  But.  When I really looked at myself and my half-hearted gym sessions (and my slowly tightening belt), I thought, what could I achieve if I really had motivation?  

So I finally set myself up with a little motivation.  And here we are.

Of course, without all the learning I did, all that motivation would have done is made me an anxious person!  I understood the basics about nutrition and exercise, but when it came to putting a leash on it and making it do what I wanted, I didn't know enough about it - or even myself - to get started.

Maybe you have felt like that before or do right now?  

(Maybe you wish I would just get on with it and tell you something useful?)  Okay.  No more overture.  Let's talk about nutrition.

I've mentioned before how I tried a few different dieting strategies during the course of my competition prep.  I gave each one some time, figuring out how it worked for my schedule/lifestyle/tastes/body, before tweaking it at all.  The story of trial and error can be found elsewhere - yes, here - but I have gained an overall perspective on how it all came together.

Butternut Squash + Smoked Salmon Salad - a few simple ingredients that will boost your metabolism to help burn fat! #cleaneats

Part One: Building a Foundation

The first month and a half of training, my goal was to build muscle.  (At the time, I thought I would also be losing a lot of fat, but as it turns out, that's not exactly how it works.)  Based on a few weeks of researching what others had done, I started doing less cardio and began heavy lifting sessions 5-6 days a week, doing each muscle group twice a week.  (More on my training in the near future!)  In order to fuel this, I started eating about 6 small meals a day - protein, oatmeal, sweet potatoes; gradually increased my lean protein intake to about 1.2 X my bodyweight in pounds - ie., eggs, fish, chicken breast; took my daily multivitamins and fish oil - no longer in my favorite sugary-gummy form; drank lots of tea; and began taking a few recommended supplements.  

I believe that this is known across the world and possibly in galaxies far far away as the "bro" diet.

The main reason this diet was different than my previous one is that I was eating more protein, and even a little more fat, than I used to.  Before, when calories were my main focus for body-composition-changing, I ate mostly carbs.  Mostly fibrous, healthy, nutritionally-dense carbs, like whole grain bread and veggies - but carbs that still didn't provide the healthy protein or fat to truly keep me full or energized.  However, I was still counting my calories so I could have as much information as possible in case I needed to do some adjusting.  I started high-ish with calories - close to what I was eating already, around 1700/day - but was now supplying those calories with something more filling and well-suited to my training.  Sadly, my wine and banana bread no longer made the cut.

These first few weeks were essential as a foundation-building diet, even though I didn't fully see this at the time.  Clean, whole, foods that filled me up and fueled my metabolism were the first step.  I learned that protein like chicken and eggs take more time (keeping you full longer) and more calories to digest.  I found that leafy greens, like spinach, are important for the nutritional boost that will keep you feeling awesome, but also provide a lot of fiber to keep the lower digestive system healthy (which is essential to nutrient-absorbtion + metabolism + immune system) and hummin' along.  I also discovered that good carb sources like sweet potatoes, paired with a protein, are integral to muscle gain for not only the readily usable energy they provide the heavy gym sesh, but for the fact that they raise blood insulin levels to help absorb nutrients into the muscle.  Read: Carbs = the VIP that gets the protein + other nutrients into the club.

You like my little drawing, don't you?  Yep.  I kinda had to, you know?

You like my little drawing, don't you?  Yep.  I kinda had to, you know?

In order to gain muscle, you need to consume the essential components for muscle-building and plenty of them.  Branched-chain amino acids, aka BCAAs, are essential nutrients that make up protein and are what your body uses to repair muscle on a daily basis (not just because of or during heavy training.)   A diet of only jelly doughnuts and gummy bears would make it hard for your body to reconstruct the muscle tissue you break down while training, let alone keep up the energy to train in the first place.  This is because jelly doughnuts and gummy bears are basically made of simple carbohydrates - sugars - that are sucked up into the bloodstream lickety-split, leaving little for you to run off of partway into your workout - beside the fact that they have practically no protein for your muscles to repair with.  I mean... if you go to the gym, break down the muscle with training, and then don't feed your body anything the muscles can use to rebuild, you're just... breaking down muscle.

This is why it was important for me to begin learning how and when to eat.  With a new, intense, training program, it was absolutely essential that I get the amount of protein I needed, but ALSO the amount of carbs and overall calories and other nutrients I needed.  In a nutshell, the first several weeks of eating a lot, planning my meals, and training hard allowed me to build fat-zapping muscle while heightening my immune system and metabolism.  

I also liked that deciding to do the meal planning and training on my own meant that I was also finding out the how and why as I went along.  You know, as opposed to being prescribed my 6 meals a day by a trainer and sent a-meal-prepping.  Still, I was not overly pleased with the tedium of researching, cookie-cutter meal-prepping, calorie-scrutinizing, and worrying about pending results.  As much as I needed this first "phase" for myself, the next few steps became easier in some ways (harder in others), and finally allowed me to cut my fat down for show day!

Now, there could be books filled with information on just these last couple paragraphs - oh WAIT, they're called textbooks - so I will do you a favor and not confuse you with my little explanations.  Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and bodybuilder, has written an extremely helpful and accessible article, and you can knock yourself out with this link.

Pinky promise I will finish the rest of my nutrition/training/supplement heart to heart in the next couple articles.  Keep reading!

Well here we are:  Finally at the salad.

I mentioned, probably like a year and a half ago if you just read this whole article, that this is a tasty, fat-burning, nutritionally-dense salad, didn't I?  I have been learning a lot about including healthy, fibrous, carbs, Omega-3 fats, as well as metabolism-boosting spices + blood-sugar regulating vinegars in my meals.  This is a tasty and easy one just for you!  Okay, and for me.  I really like it, too.

Butternut Squash + Smoked Salmon Salad - a few simple ingredients that will boost your metabolism to help burn fat! #cleaneats

Simple Smoked Salmon + Butternut Salad

Ingredients: 

2.5-3 oz chopped baby spinach
3 oz cubed roasted butternut squash (find roasting instructions here)
3 oz smoked wild salmon
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. extra virgin olive or avocado oil 
About 1/4 tsp. each black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, or to taste

Directions:

Chop the spinach and place on a large dinner plate or bowl.  Top with cubed squash and salmon.  Drizzle the vinegar over the salad and sprinkle evenly with the spices.  Toss with a fork and enjoy!

Makes 1 salad
Nutrition: 195 calories; 10.2 g fat (1.4 g saturated); 8.3 g carbs; 3.3 g fiber (for 5 net carbs); 18 g protein (Bonus: 210% DV vitamin A; 47% DV vitamin C; 11% DV calcium; 17% DV iron)