Product review: QuestBar

I the pleasure of once again volunteering at the OptiMYz Live Health Expo this year. (Check out last year’s fun here) Much like last year I found myself scoping the vendors out for products that I could review.

I had heard of Quest bars only because they’re the only type of pre-packaged protein bar that is allowed in my meal plan. Not really being the type to spend money (that I don’t really have) on a $3-$5 snack, I generally have opted for things like almonds and cottage cheese as reasonable protein snacks and avoided buying the Quest bars.

That being said, I happened upon a vendor from Nutrition Excellence at OptiMYz Live. The incredibly friendly sales rep, Joel, had brought along some of the brands that they represent and distribute around the country, including those from Quest Nutrition. The temptation to nab a couple of Quest bars was too strong and I ended up buying an entire box of 12 (various flavours) for $25.

I didn’t really know what to expect as I have eaten a lot of really crappy tasting protein bars in the past that did little for me nutrition-wise. These are fairly well known for being one of the few/only bars on the market that are low-carb, sugar-free, high-fibre, high-protein and gluten free. I also knew that Coach Krissy would never have allowed me to eat them (or would eat them herself) if they were the same filler-laden crap on grocery store shelves. That doesn’t say much for the taste though. If anything, the fact that they are “better” for you only seemed to make me think they’d taste like old socks.

Quite the contrary.

If there’s anything I regret is that I didn’t introduce these beauties into my diet sooner. They have become an amazing way to battle the mid-afternoon munchies and all day I look forward to having my 3 p.m. QuestBar!

It's a picture of a wrapper because the contents inside never stay in there long enough for a photo...

It’s a picture of a wrapper because the contents inside never stay in there long enough for a photo…

In case you can’t read that, the nutrition information is as follows:

Calories: 160
Fat: 5g
Carbs: 25g
Fibre: 17g
Sugars: 1g
Protein: 20g

So far I’ve tried the Chocolate Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownie flavours, with Strawberry Cheesecake on deck for tomorrow. The only problem I would say is that I’m going to burn through them so quickly that it’s not terribly affordable for anyone on a budget to eat these consistently. Sad face.

I am willing to change my budget around to try and fit them in though because I might be obsessed. So many protein bars are either sickly sweet, leave an unpleasant aftertaste or just taste… old. QuestBars have a really rich taste that actually tastes like what it says on the package. It’s a soft bar that is practically melt in your mouth and it’s a really decent size so you can make it last for a while.

By far, one of the best purchases I’ve made in a while.

Here’s another couple of crappy photos from OptiMYz Live that I snapped with my terrible camera phone. You should probably just go buy some QuestBars instead though…

This was the cutest thing ever! This little kid was giving it as hard as he could, too!

This was the cutest thing ever! This little kid was giving it as hard as he could, too!

The one where fatty had a birthday…

I can’t believe I forgot about the blog’s birthday! Shame on me.

New Years resolutions aren’t really my thing (I don’t feel compelled to wait for a certain date to set a goal) but in 2011 I decided that I was going to start up a blog and write about the things that interest me the most – fitness, nutrition, health, bodybuilding and my personal journey from keen observer to active participant.

I feel like I’ve come a long way since this blog started. I’ve gone through a lot of changes in my personal life and just as many changes in my “fitness life”. As far as body composition, I’m actually not too far off from where I was last year but I have learned more than I ever expected I would. I’m so much more knowledgeable about my own health, the way I eat, the things I do when I walk into the gym. I feel stronger and more empowered overall. I also made a tough decision last year to switch trainers. I left a trainer that I had been with since I was 21 years old, which wasn’t easy. I miss seeing Cathy but I have loved my experience with Krissy so far and can see sticking with her for a long time to come (so long as she’ll have me.)

Time for a little reflection…

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The one about a do-over…

I would like a Mulligan, please!

Take me back to last Monday and let me start again.

This past week I’ve experienced some very high-highs and very low-lows. I’ll get the good news out of the way first so you can all do a little mental pom-pom shake for me before I tell you how I managed to take what should have been an exciting moment and let my mind ruin it.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Wednesday was my official check-in day. It went great (could have gone better) and I was mostly happy with my results. Down 5 pounds, 5 inches and 1% body fat. That means that my little slip up two weekends ago did make an impact but it didn’t destroy everything.

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The one at the end of week two…

Made it through another week of my road to the WBFF 2013 Atlantic Championships and I have nothing but good things to report.

My diet has been smooth sailing, I’ve had no problems staying on plan and my cravings for sweets have literally gone from uncontrollable to non-existent over the past two weeks. I’m never in a situation where I’m bored and feeling like I need a snack because I always know there’s another meal just around the corner so if I want to eat something I’ll cut up some cucumber or bell peppers and snack on that just to tide me over until I get to my next meal. (That’s happening right now actually, I’m munching on some green pepper because I know I have a full meal on the way in a half hour.)

It’s only been two weeks but I don’t think I’ve noticed any real changes as of yet. I should break down and weigh myself (I typically stay far away from scales) so that I can properly take my body fat percentage. I’m trying to get down to 15% body fat in increments of %5 at a time so I do need to keep an eye on how that is progressing, despite my reluctance to ever put any kind of focus on arbitrary numbers on a scale.

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The one with the first week finish…

I’m hungry and it’s awesome.

Most people would be pretty disappointed to be hungry but I find it to be supremely satisfying. Why? Because it’s a sign that my metabolism is starting to chug along again.

I’m coming up on two weeks on my new-and-improved competition diet and I think my body is finally starting to adjust. I found it really hard at first to get all of my food in through the day because I was so full. (TMI alert) I spent more than a week feeling huge, bloated and uncomfortable but yesterday I woke up and could feel a significant difference in my body. I think I could even see it, my stomach wasn’t as distended as it was just hours before and a layer of water had disappeared from under my skin, giving me a peek at definition I hadn’t seen in months! (Oh, hey quads! Nice to see you again!)

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Product review: Stevia sodas

I’m probably the worst person in the world to be reviewing these two products because I’m a recovering pop drinker.

In fact, up until the point that I decided to try these (purely for the sake of the blog) I hadn’t even had a carbonated beverage this year. I won’t deny that part of me was a little terrified that I would take one sip and suddenly turn into some Hulk-like monster, tearing down walls to get to the closest fizzy refreshment.

Yeah… not so much.

The usual disclaimer applies – I bought these with my own money (they were on sale) and neither one of these companies knows this blog even exists.

I picked up two different kinds of pop that are zero calorie and sugar free – sweetened with the natural sweetener stevia instead of HFCS or Splenda. I find that stevia sometimes has a strange aftertaste, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

The first one I tried was Zevia:

The flavour: Cream Soda

I was pleasantly surprised! It tasted like the cream soda I remember from my childhood (the clear kind, not the pink stuff) and it didn’t have the stevia after taste. If you’re looking for sweet though, you won’t find it here. My brain was anticipating that it was going to be sweet and it was a tad on the bland side – but refreshing!

The second can I cracked was that of Krisda Natural Soda:

The flavour: Root Beer

I thought that root beer would be a nice contrast to the cream soda flavour I had just tried. There was unfortunately one thing about Krisda that stood out for me and that was the stevia taste. It wasn’t terrible but it was enough that it masked the taste of the root beer which really should be delightful – it’s such a great natural flavour to work with!

In the battle of the stevia sodas Zevia comes out the winner hands down. If you’re a fan of pop and looking for something naturally sweetened, zero calorie, free from sodium, gluten and caffeine then definitely try a soda sweetened with stevia! They can be a bit pricey (these were on sale for $1 a can and are only sold in singles) but the can comes with a warning not to consume more than 2-3 a day so it’s probably a better idea to not overindulge in them anyway. 🙂

I think this would be a great way of weaning yourself off drinking soda but I’m a terribly biased water drinker and recovering popaholic.

The one about Annapolis…

I had to do some research today for my internship. There was a photo in the newspaper of a woman named Marsalie MacKenzie modelling a dress, who happened to be an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.  I was then tasked with finding out who this woman was so we could include the mention in our regular media monitoring. So, like all good researchers, I hit up Google.

What I ended up finding could not have been more fitting for my particular interests. As it turns out this woman attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 2009 as a Canadian exchange student from the Royal Military College. While she was there she wrote up a series of blog posts for the RMC website, one of which was about the stringent fitness requirements all the midshipmen are required to undergo.

Clearly, there is quite a difference between rights and freedoms in the US than there is in Canada because some of the rules they have to adhere to would be considered discrimination under our laws. For example, MacKenzie writes:

“Generally speaking, the average midshipman was leaner and meaner than their RMC counterpart-so much so that it led me to ask my roommates if it was in their constitution to attain (and maintain) rock-hard abs and chiselled pecs. At first they laughed and informed me that their chubbier peers, like bats or raccoons, only came out at night and at meals. As it turns out though, my original assertion was not so far-fetched; as my roommates explained, part of the yearly in-clearance procedure at the Naval Academy requires them to undergo height and weight testing, the results of which determines their eligibility for service.”

After reading this passage I immediately wondered what height and weight testing has to do with anything. When I joined the military in 2005 there was a requirement that before you went to basic training you had to pass your physical fitness test. During the year or so that it took to complete all of my paperwork and wait for my trade to become available that rule changed. At that point you could join the military in any shape and they would make sure that when you left you were fit. When I went to basic training you had to pass your PT test in the first week in order to move on with your platoon. If you didn’t pass your PT test you were moved to RFT (remedial fitness training) where you spent a month having some of the best fitness trainers in the country ‘whip you into shape’. At the end of that month you had to be able to pass your PT test and rarely was there an occasion where someone who stuck it out for that month would not be able to do it.

I won’t deny that I was weighed and measured when I went for my intial medical testing but that wasn’t got me into the military. It was my aptitude, my ability, my smarts that got me in and it was my level of fitness that carried me through until an injury led to my early release. The ultimate question though, was always ‘Can you pass your PT test?’ and you didn’t go anywhere until that answer was yes. I believe that is the way it should be but according to MacKenzie things are slightly different when it comes to the US Navy.

“However, in early October, I was summoned by my lieutenant, who informed me that I would report to the fifth wing gym to be weighed in with the UNSATS (those who had failed to meet their requirements in September). Some veterans of the process took it upon themselves to explain to me the protocol. First, each midshipman is led to a scale where their weight is recorded. Simultaneously, their height is measured by a second individual, while a third does a quick calculation. If they meet requirements, the midshipman is free to leave. If they do not, they are led to a pen where they await further measurement of their neck, waist, arms and calves (this is to ensure that “athletic builds,” specifically wrestlers, are not misidentified as overweight). Those who are UNSAT after this process are then placed on a strict diet, with portions rationed to them at every meal, and forced to attend supplementary morning PT (regardless of whether or not they have passed their physical fitness testing). Ironically, those midshipmen placed on special diets are the only ones allowed to have a fridge in their rooms for personal use.”

I understand wanting your recruits to be healthy and I understand encouraging them to make healthy selections when they walk into the mess hall. (Perhaps making healthy selections the only ones available would be a better method?) How though, can you expect someone to be able to giving a top performance both mentally a physically when someone else is controlling their calorie intake? Not because they’re ill, not because their body requires it, but because an arbitrary set of numbers has determined that they should eat less. What really irks me is that someone can pass their PT test but if their BMI isn’t ‘ideal’ they still have to take supplementary PT until it is? Your height to weight ratio has nothing to do with your ability to do your duties whether it’s for the military or not. And the reason for why they do this? According to MacKenzie the answer she got was that it was all about appearance. It’s not about doing your job, it’s about looking good in a uniform.

“From what I could deduce,” MacKenzie writes, “the US Navy considers this impossible for anyone wearing above a women’s size 10 or a men’s size 36 pants. Apparently, a lower BMI is a testament to an individual’s leadership potential; as it turns out, looking like ‘an officer’ is just as important as being one.”

Is this really the military we should all be looking up to as a standard for leadership? I have a hard time thinking so. Regardless of your ratio of height to weight if you serve your country, proudly wear the flag on your arm, and do your duties as required to the best of your ability, including passing your PT test, then you’re the one we should be looking up to.

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Product Review: True Lemon

When life gives you lemons… make lemon water!

Water is my beverage of choice but every now and then it’s nice to add a little bit of flavour to my H2O. Sometimes it’s mint but more often than not it’s lemon.

Working in radio, lemon water is an important tool in the announcer’s tool belt. I do a lot of talking in the span of 7 hours (13 minutes an hour worth of newscasts) and the last thing I need is to lose my voice. It happens surprisingly often though if I am not drinking lemon water. Lots of people preach tea with honey but for radio people that’s not a solution – honey makes your vocal chords stick together so you need to clear your throat more.

The problem is… lemons are not incredibly portable and I find that the bottled lemon juice just doesn’t have the same freshness as just having a real squeeze of lemon. I was at the grocery store today and made the most fantastic discovery!

This isn’t like Crystal Light or any kind of drink mix, it’s lemons in a powder form and it’s delicious! It definitely tastes better than the bottled lemon and mixes really well in water! I have a recipe for lemon protein bars that I hadn’t made because it includes Crystal Light in the ingredients and I don’t eat/drink artificial sweeteners so I might give it a try using this instead. I think if I mixed it with soda water it would taste quite delightful.

Each packet is the equivalent to one lemon wedge!

Ultimately, lemon water is great for your throat, your liver, your stomach, digestion, asthma and allergies and a slew of other maladies and I think True Lemon is going to help me get a bit more into my day!

The one about goals…

If you remember, a few posts ago I outlined what my short term (6 month) and long term (12 month) goals are.

I was recently chatting with a friend about the post and they wondered why it was that I didn’t have any weight loss related goals on my list.

The answer is simple: I don’t believe in goals based on weight loss.

In fact, they make me kind of annoyed. I don’t hold it against anyone who makes those kinds of goals and I think from time to time they can (perhaps) have a purpose but let’s get real – they’re not realistic most of the time.

I won’t deny that I have been on “diets” in the past. It was my experience with LA Weight Loss and Weight Watchers when I was in my early 20s that ultimately taught me how to eat properly so I can’t really slag them off. I have learned a lot since then though and I really feel now as though focusing on a number is a sure fire way to derail your efforts.

It’s really no surprise that most people are obsessed with achieving a specific (arbitrary) number that is supposedly an “ideal” for every body type imaginable. How could they not when flipping the pages of ONE magazine and these are the ads you see:

All of these ads were within 15 pages of each other.

Fat burners are pushed on us in every women’s magazine.

The average person will burn about 100 extra calories a day while taking a fat burner (which is pretty much a banana). Generally, they’re geared more towards models and fitness competitors who are trying to get the last little bit of body fat off before they get in front of a camera. The spokeswomen in the advertisements look the way they do thanks to a combination of good genes, good food and good exercise habits. As for the “before and after” photos that are featured in many of the ads… some of these businesses (won’t name which ones) will hire fit people and pay them to GAIN weight and just reverse the photos.

Think about it this way, what kind of successful business model would have the consumer buy your product once and never need to buy it again? They want you to buy it again because they know you’re going to need to buy it again.

Weight loss is a positive side effect of living a healthy lifestyle. When I think about the long term I set my goals based on fitness and eating clean (a full, unrestricted diet granted). If, through both those things, I happen to lose pounds or inches then so be it. Obviously that is how my body is meant to be! I have been the same weight for almost a year, no yo-yo’s here. I don’t have to watch the scale go up and down because 1. I rarely weigh myself (I generally go by body fat percentage) and 2. I’m achieving the goals I set because they’re healthy and attainable. Ideal weights don’t take into account your genetics, body type, or musculature.

Do whatever is right for you, and your body. Hopefully that means setting goals based on eating well and being active rather than fighting against your own body to achieve a number that may or may not be meant for you.