It’s been a while since I’ve written a post with more depth than just a recipe. Today is the first time in about 3 weeks where I feel like I actually have the mental capacity to do that, and it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about two things that I haven’t done so well these past few weeks: managing stress and maintaining focus. AND, I have a new dessert recipe that is just the bomb. I got some new protein powder this week, caught the baking bug last night, and it resulted in delicious, decadent red velvet protein brownies. YUM.
March Madness (Not the Fun Kind)
A little recap of the month of March for me: my life has been full of SXSW, a funeral, no rest on the weekends (because I’ve been busy doing what I love: cooking for people), and a work project I’ve been churning on since August that is finally coming to fruition. Essentially, it’s been go-go-go at 100 miles per hour for the last three weeks. Top that off with a few big decisions that I need to make in the next couple of weeks and major life events that are coming up this year (PS: I’m gonna be an AUNT this September!), and I’ve lost focus on two of my biggest priorities/passions: coming up with fun, healthy, new recipes to write about and giving 110% in the gym. My emotional state has been a little off this month, and I know it’s because I haven’t been mentally OR physically available to spend time doing what I love. In short, it’s time to refocus.
Sure, I’ve been keeping up with my daily workouts and haven’t dropped the ball on cooking — in fact, I’m doing MORE than I ever have before — but since my mind is elsewhere, I don’t feel like I’m able to enjoy it as much. I haven’t quit on myself by any means, but I’ve felt like I’m just going through the motions. I find myself more irritable during the week, less focused during my workouts (and I’m wearing a giant scrape with a nasty bruise on my left shin as a result of my mind wandering during box jumps — oops), and it’s been much harder for me to fall asleep every night. All of this because my stress levels are a bit higher than normal.
More Stress, Less Muscle?
Some science-y stuff that I learned from Train magazine this week: cortisol (the hormone that your body releases when under stress) can actually hinder your body from absorbing protein, making it harder to build muscle. Additionally, it can cause fatigue, a lack of concentration, and slower recovery from injury; all things that I’ve been experiencing first-hand throughout the last few weeks. BAD NEWS BEARS, people. I don’t want any part of that, so after doing some introspective thinking yesterday, I decided to do a couple of the things that calm, center, and refocus me: looking back on my progress and baking things.
Looking back at my progress reminds me of my “why.” The me of today is a completely different person from me year and a half ago, both inside and out. Back then, I was passive. I didn’t take ownership of my own decisions, I had no confidence, and I hid behind food and alcohol. I didn’t really know how to put myself to good use. There was no focus, and I ignored stress through binge eating and drinking too much on a regular basis. The end result? An overweight, despondent girl who didn’t know (or care about) her purpose. The last 15 months have brought light to what I DO care about, what makes me happy, and what I can do to feel fulfilled every single day: cooking healthily, working out, and motivating other people to improve their health. Recognizing all of this and thinking about where I started brings my focus back to what matters most.
Being in the kitchen — whether it’s making healthy chicken enchiladas or baking some brownies with protein powder — brings me this inexplicable feeling of purpose and calmness. So, last night, I cut my post-boot camp weight session in half, went back to my apartment, and fired up the oven. I haven’t had the time to let my creativity drive what I cook in the last few weeks, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until last night. The joy that I find in throwing a bunch of random stuff together without following another person’s recipe is one of my top 5 my favorite things on earth, and it usually results in badass treats, like these brownies. I had 2 last night with a little extra cream cheese and a giant glob of Cool Whip on top and bypassed my usual Arctic Zero/Oreo dessert. Wise, wise move.
Needless to say, I’m back to my happy, well-rested, less-overwhelmed self today. Nothing a good night’s sleep and a protein brownie can’t fix, apparently. :o)
Red Velvet Protein Brownies
These are a little less sweet and not overly rich, making them perfect for a nightly treat to satisfy that nagging sweet tooth without sabotaging your fitness goals.
Nutritional Overview (per brownie):
Serves: 16 brownies
Cook time: 25 minutes (5 active, 20 baking)
- 1 can chickpeas (garbanzos)
- 2 scoops (60g) Cellucor Red Velvet protein powder
- 2 tbsp Love Bean Superfood Fudge Spread (found at Whole Foods and made in Austin — Nutella is a good sub if you can’t find this one)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 2 oz Neufchatel cream cheese (room temperature)
- 1/2 cup Stevia
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp sweet cream butter
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
- Red food coloring
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8×8 inch baking dish with cooking spray
- Drain and rinse your chickpeas, then place in a blender or food processor. Pulse until the beans are finely processed (it’s not a big deal if there are a few small chunks)
- Add all remaining ingredients to your blender or food processor and blend until combined. You should end up with a brownie batter-ish consistency
- Pour batter into your prepared baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean)
- Top with Cool Whip, cream cheese mixed with a little bit of Stevia, or nothing at all. Any way you choose to eat these will result in an instant taste bud party.