Why Are Jamaican Sprinters So Fast? 5 Potential Explanations [Femme FITale #4]

On today’s installation of Femme FITale, we’re taking a look at the fastest women in the world. More specifically, how a small, not particularly wealthy country in the Caribbean managed to take the sprinting world by storm.

Jamaican Excellence

Jamaica is home to around three million people, about the same number as live in Chicago. Although it’s classified as having an upper-middle income economy, Jamaica is still struggling, in part due to slow growth, high debt, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

In 2017, nearly 20% of Jamaicans lived in poverty. Additionally, the country faces relatively high levels of crime and violence (Note: all this according to the World Bank). Jamaica’s murder rate is three times the average of Latin America and the Caribbean, and it’s been considered multiple times to be in the top 10 most dangerous places in the world, particularly for women.

Compare this with the United States. The US has a population of around 328 million (more than 100 times the size of Jamaica) and a significantly lower poverty rate of around 13%. The country is considered to be very safe in most areas and is quite wealthy, with a lot of disposable income floating around.

You would think–purely given this comparison–that the US should dominate Jamaica in running competitions. The US has way more people to choose from and find the top talent, way more money to invest in sporting equipment and practice, and way less crime and poverty that could serve as a distraction/limit on competition.

But that’s not what you see when you look at the data.

Below are the top 10 medaling countries at the Olympic Games in the Women’s 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, ordered by total medals).

Jamaica is only 5 medals behind the US overall, they are nearly tied in silvers, and are even ahead on bronze. It’s incredibly impressive, and completely the opposite of what you’d expect if you just blindly looked at the backgrounds of the two countries.

What about when we look at Jamaica compared with the whole world. How do Jamaican runners stack up then?

Below we see the 100 fastest times for the women’s 100 meter and 200 meter sprints of all time. Note that this data does not only cover the olympics, but considers all major events. Jamaican runners are highlighted in Green.

We can see that Jamaican runners have performed excellently for several decades and that they are having a standout year in 2021. Five of the eleven fastest 100m times in 2021 were Jamaicans (including the two fastest overall), alongside three of the top ten 200m times (including the fastest overall).

In fact, there is only one individual who has performed better than the top Jamaicans: the iconic Florence Griffith-Joyner (Flo-Jo), whose sprint records in the 1980s were so dominant that they have never been topped since.

Jamaican excellence in athletics is relatively unique to sprinting. When looking at other Olympic events, it’s pretty rare to see a Jamaican medal. Jamaicans have only won a total of 87 medals across all sports, meaning that their sprint medals alone make up more than 1/4 of their total winnings.

So what’s going on here? Why does this small country, wrecked by natural disasters, facing horrible crime rates, and lacking tons of money, keep producing so many of the world’s fastest runners–including the fastest women in 2021?

Potential Explanations

There have been a whole host of potential explanations posed for this high performance, including heavy consumption of magical yams and green bananas. In this post, we’ll look at some of the most probable.

1. Track is a much more publicized sport in Jamaica than in other countries.

Beloved by Jamaicans, track is by far the island’s most popular sport. While in the US we have things like the Superbowl and the World Series, in Jamaica their big event is a track competition: The Boys and Girls Championships.

More affectionately known as ‘Champs’, the event takes place in Kingston ever March. It’s a huge spectacle. Five days straight of events–broadcast to national TV–with packed stands of more than 30,000 fans. And pretty much everyone, even if they don’t make it to the event, has a team or runner they’re rooting for.

If you want to be the superstar of your country and compete in front of thousands of fans–you do track. Nothing else really comes close in Jamaica.

And when you have everyone wanting to do a sport, you’ve got a lot more potential to find the fastest runners. Pretty much everyone wanting to be someone in athletics will try it, so you’re a lot less likely to miss the best runners because they went to other sports than you would be in other countries.

Look at the two fastest Jamaican women in the world: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah. Both competed at champs in their early days,

2. The small size of Jamaica makes it easier to find superstars.

Jamaica is a pretty small country–only 3 million or so inhabitants, only a portion of whom are young and athletic enough to be potential future stars. This means the pool of athletes is relatively small.

While this could be considered a downside–fewer athletes to choose from–I think it’s also an upside in its own way. In a small group, it’s much easier to find the best athletes. You need a lot fewer eyes looking and are less likely to miss someone. This is especially true when linked to point #1. You only really need one person to spot your running talent in Jamaica since the love of track means that everyone wants to find the best stars.

3. Greatness is a self-perpetuating cycle.

Role models play a key role in the development of great athletes. Consider a 2021 study focusing on the effects of role models in changing the self-efficacy adolescent athletes.

This study, conducted by researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea, found that when adolescent athletes have role models that they model their behavior after, they appear to–on average–have higher self efficacy. Higher self efficacy, an individual’s belief in their own capacity to succeed based on their skills, in turn seems to lead to increased ability of young athletes to achieve a flow state (being “in the zone”). Although statistical analyses always involve some amount of uncertainty, the researchers calculated that there was a less than 1% probability that their results were purely due to random chance.

According to the science, when young athletes have accomplished role models, they tend to perform better. And in a place like Jamaica, those role models are easy to come by. The fastest man in the world–Usain Bolt–is from there, alongside many of the top fastest women of all time!

When you come from the same country as those legends, it’s not so far fetched to believe that you can be just like them.

This becomes more and more powerful over time, too. The more Jamaican sprinters that dominate international competitions and break records, the more that young Jamaicans will think they can do the same. When there’s only one top sprinter, they can seem like an anomaly–but when there are dozens, you start to realize that the goal of getting up there with them is not impossible.

4. Jamaica has some of the best coaches in the world.

Coaching may play a big role too. Jamaica is known for having some of the top coaches in the world, which could help give the country’s athletes an edge.

Prior to 1999–before Jamaica made a name for itself in sprinting–Jamaican runners were not trained in their home country, but rather were sent to the United States for training. Jamaica slowly started to make a switch toward home-training, though, and sprinters kept doing better and better.

The first home-trained sprinter to find international success was Brigitte Foster (now Foster-Hylton) in 2003. She was followed by many more Jamaican-trained athletes: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Melaine Walker.

This switch proved successful for a few reasons. For one, it meant that sprinters had no chance of getting caught up in the US college system and being neglected or becoming more interested in college life than being the fastest in the world. But perhaps more importantly, Jamaica had fantastic coaches that kept pushing their athletes.

Again, we have the small country conundrum. How does this small island seem to magically have such great track coaches? One potential explanation is their focus on coaching training.

Even though it’s a small island, Jamaica has a dedicated college designed to train coaches: The GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport. In a country where poverty and violence play a big role, coaching is a way to do something to escape that, and a dedicated program means lots of opportunity to develop skilled coaches.

5. Running is a way to escape poverty and violence.

In a place like Jamaica, with high poverty and crime rates, it can be difficult to break out of the cycle and escape a difficult way of life. There are not all that many great opportunities in the country.

Running, however, has proven to be an effective way to escape poverty–at least for the best athletes.

Consider the story of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. She grew up in a one room building with no dining table. Some nights, all she ate was a little bit of bread and butter. Her family couldn’t afford all the groceries they needed, so they relied on a kind grocery store operator to be generous and help them.

She now has a net worth of around $4 million. And she’s not alone. Look up pretty much any top Jamaican runner and you’ll likely see a similar story.

If you can be one of the fastest runners in the world and impress fans on a world stage, it can be the break you need to escape a difficult life. This is a big reason why so many young runners train–and train hard. They want a way out. And they know that with hard work and a little luck, it’s not impossible.

Takeaways

So there we have it. Five potential reasons why Jamaican sprinters are so good. If you came into this with any knowledge of running, though, you might be a little confused. Why did genetics not show up on this list, when we know they play a big role in distance running?

Although “genetics” has been discussed many times as a potential explanation, it’s not backed up by evidence. If we compare Jamaican runners to black runners from the US–who tend to be their biggest competition–we don’t find any significant differences in their prevalence of so-called “performance” genes.

It mostly seems to be a combination of internal motivation, national culture, and good infrastructure for finding potential superstars that has led to Jamaica’s success.

The small island nation cracked the formula, and have cemented a permanent place in sprinting history.

What to Expect From Your First Obstacle Course Race – Answers to 6 Common Questions

I recently completed my first ever obstacle course race: a Rugged Maniac 5K. Before going in, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never run any reasonable distance, never done an obstacle course race, and never even done a competitive athletic event before. Needless to say, a bunch of questions were swirling around in my head:

  • I’ve heard some obstacle course races (like Spartan Race) can be super intense. Are they all like that, or are there some that are more beginner friendly?
  • As a non-runner, will I be able to complete a 5K?
  • What happens if I can’t finish an obstacle?
  • As a short person, is this a hopeless endeavor? Will I physically be able to reach anything?
  • Is it going to be worth all the money (and the travel time) I spent to register?

If you’re interested in participating in an obstacle course race but are new to the sport and have some of the same questions, you’re not alone! We’ve all been there. It’s hard to know what to expect, and that can sometimes be a bit nerve-racking. So today, I’m going to try to answer these questions and share some general thoughts on the experience.

1. I’ve heard some obstacle course races (like Spartan Race) can be super intense. Are they all like that, or are there some that are more beginner friendly?

There are a huge variety of obstacle course races out there and no two races are a like. Some are super intense–as long as a half-marathon or more, with dozens of obstacles–and run for many hours. There are also some moderate difficulty races–in the range of a 10K–and quite a few 5K races.

If you’re a beginner, I recommend dipping your toes in with a 5K to start, so that you can get familiar with the concept of obstacle course racing and have fun without killing yourself.

It is important to know, though, that even though I recommend the 5K as a starter, some 5K races can be competitive and not suitable for beginners.

For example, Bonefrog‘s Sprint race (approximately 5K) has extremely tough obstacles, as the race was designed as a Navy SEAL style challenge. A beginner wouldn’t be able to complete most of them. If you’re looking for an easier 5K, Rugged Maniac is a great place to start, as most of their obstacles are relatively accessible to beginners. If you’re in Canada or Australia, the 5K Foam Fest is another good beginner option.

Spartan‘s Sprint distance, the Tough Mudder 5K and Savage Race Blitz are potentially doable, but would be significantly harder than Rugged Maniac.

[Spartan Race is potentially the most famous of the obstacle course races around today, but it’s not necessarily the best fit for a beginner! Try and work your way up to this one!]

Another thing to be wary of is start time. Most races typically have certain start times (heats) that are more competitive than others, and there are usually some options that are geared more toward beginners. For example, in the Spartan races, if you compete in the open heats, you don’t have to take a penalty for skipping obstacles, like you would if you are competing in your age group. Often, competitive time slots will be at the beginning of the day, and the less competitive ones will be at the end.

So if you’re signing up for a race and want to make sure it’s beginner friendly:

  • Start with a 5K
  • Choose a race with obstacles that look reasonable
  • Look up the event’s time slot standards and make sure you’re in a less competitive time heat

2. As a non-runner, will I be able to complete a 5K?

Yes! Pretty much anyone who’s in decent shape is capable of finishing a 5K. By finish here, I don’t mean run the entire way full steam, but just finish, however works best for you!

It is totally ok, if you are feeling wiped, to walk part of the way (or even most/all of it)! People won’t be judging you and you almost certainly won’t be the only one doing it!

Take as long as you need to finish, walk as much as you want, and just have fun!

3. What happens if I can’t finish an obstacle?

This typically depends on the race you’re competing in. If you sign up for an intense and highly competitive race, you may be disqualified from the race for failing to complete an obstacle or have a penalty added to your time. In the competitive heats of the Spartan race, you may be required to complete penalty exercises (burpees) as well. This is a good thing to go ahead and check ahead of time to make you’re not signing up for an event with an extreme penalty that’s going to ruin your fun.

One of the reasons Rugged Maniac is so great for beginners is that most of the heats are un-timed by default, and there’s no penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. You just walk around it and keep going, which makes it really approachable.

The good news is, whatever race you choose, as long as you’re in a non-competitive division or time slot of the race, people will help you! One of the big things I learned from competing is that everyone is rooting for each other! If you’re struggling on an obstacle, someone is almost certainly going to try and cheer you on or offer some help. It’s a really supportive community, so don’t be scared!

[Don’t expect to have to struggle alone in obstacle course races! At the beginner level’s it’s a very friendly sport! You’ll probably get help from strangers if you’re struggling, but at the very least you’ll have them cheer you on.]

4. As a short person, is this a hopeless endeavor? Will I physically be able to reach anything?

I’m going to be real on this one. Being short is limitation on your likelihood of obstacle course success (at least as a beginner). Lots of obstacles have things spread really far apart or are set really high up, requiring you to jump super high to complete them. As a short person, sometimes you’ll just get to an obstacle that–due to the setup–is pretty much impossible.

The good news, though, is that most of them are not like that! The vast majority of obstacles are doable by people of any height.

At the Rugged Maniac race I competed in, there were two obstacles (out of 25!) that I could not complete purely due to height reasons. The first was a ladder, with rungs spaced about four feet apart. They were so spread out that there was no way for me to safely get my leg up high enough to climb. The second was a warped wall (as made famous by American Ninja Warrior), which was just too high for me to get up.

[Most races have a ladder something like this! If the rungs are spaced far enough apart, being short will make it impossible to complete safely.]

Everything else was doable height wise for me. Not all obstacle courses will have the same distribution of height-restrictive obstacles so this is another good thing to check before you sign up! Most races will post pictures of some of their obstacles on their sites so you have a sense of what you’re getting into.

The good news, though, is that if you run into any you simply can’t do, it will all be okay! You’ll just skip the obstacle, potentially take a time penalty, and move on! And people will completely understand and root for you to succeed!

5. Is my body going to be wrecked by this event?

The answer to this probably depends on your fitness level. If you don’t regularly even walk a 5K, then you’ll probably be really beat up by the end of the race and everything will hurt for the next few days.

If you normally engage in activity, though, and you’re not just going straight from the couch to the obstacle course, you’ll probably be fine! You can expect potentially a bit of torn hand skin from pulling on a bunch of ropes, plus some bruises from banging into pieces of wood. And if you accidentally get caught on some barbed wire (do try to be careful to avoid this if you can), you could end up with a small cut. The rest of your body should likely be okay, though, and you’ll recover pretty fast.

[Most obstacle course races will probably have at least one barbed wire obstacle where you need to crawl on the ground! This is an easy place to get injured if you’re not being careful, so be aware that this will be coming up and try to stay low and away from the barbed wire. If you make it through this, you’ll probably make it out of the whole thing without too much injury!]

6. Is it going to be worth all the money (and the travel time) I spent to register?

Absolutely! Competing in an obstacle course race is one of the most fun things I’ve done in the past couple of years. I’ve already signed up for quite a few more next year and I’ll probably add even more to the list. If you’re on the fence, just go for it! You’ll have a blast.

If you’re looking to get more out of your time and money, though, and you’re reasonably fit, it might be worth going beyond the 5K and signing up for closer to a 10K! That way you’ll spend a lot more time actually competing and maybe feel like you got more out of it.

Final Thoughts (and Recommendations)

Obstacle course races are just as fun as they look! It’s like the perfect playground for adults, and once you try one, you might never want to stop.

[You, smiling as you finish your first obstacle course race 🙂 ]

I had a few worries going into my first race, as you probably do as well, but everything turned out totally fine. As long as you choose your race carefully and make sure you’re not competing in the most competitive group, you’ll probably have a blast!

Choosing the right race can be one of the hardest parts for a beginner, so I wanted to share a few websites that might help you find a great first race (and maybe some future ones as well):

  • Mud Run Guide’s “Magical One-Click Race Finder
  • A summary of some of the more popular race types
  • Runner’s World tips on prepping for your first race
  • Another prep guide (with workouts included!) — Note that you don’t have to go all out like these guides talk about, and you can complete your first race with little to no training if you want to!

I also recommend that, if possible, for your first race you find a buddy (or several) to go with you. If you end up finding the event harder than you originally thought, your team will be there to pick you up and cheer you on! Plus it makes the time in between obstacles more fun if you have someone to chat with as you’re going.

However, a team is not necessary at all, and if you can’t convince anyone to join you, that is totally okay! In most races you’ll find plenty of people racing alone, and they’ll often offer help and maybe even keep you company.

The most important thing is that you don’t let any of these worries, uncertainties, and concerns stop you from racing. Just know that it’s going to be okay, sign up for a race, and show up on time! You almost certainly won’t regret it.

Are Electric Skateboards Worth It? – Reflections From 1 Year In

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably been asking yourself questions like: Why are electric skateboards so expensive? Is it really worth it? What’s the best electric skateboard if I’m not looking to break the bank? I went through the same thing a year ago and wanted to share my reflections on the journey since, in the hopes that it can provide you some guidance at the start of your e-skate journey.


About a year ago, midway into the Covid-19 pandemic, I was looking for a change–a new hobby to keep me entertained and help fight off the ever-present challenge of isolation, anxiety, and depression. So one day, I decided on a whim to buy an electric skateboard.

Why? I thought it would provide a fun activity while I was bored, something to focus on and get better at that was purely for personal enjoyment and not school or work, and potentially would be useful for short-range transportation. While I thought I’d probably be satisfied with my purchase, I wasn’t ready for just how much it would change my life for the better.

One of the things that scared me away from buying an electric skateboard at first was the price. The brand I was most familiar with was Boosted–a company made famous in part by YouTube star Casey Neistat, who featured it as his main form of transportation in many of his videos. Their boards cost more than $1000, which to me–a student at the time–was just too high for a purchase I was not 100% certain I’d get the value back out of. On a school job part-time salary, the board would cost pretty much my entire semester’s pay. It seemed crazy to me, so I hunted down a way to make getting a board more affordable.

I went on Google and started researching the best budget electric skateboards on the market, looking for high quality construction and good customer service at an under $500 price tag. After reading into it for a few weeks, I settled on the Backfire G2 Black. It only cost a little over $400–although not inexpensive, pretty much the lowest price I was able to find for a board that was actually of decent quality–and everyone online seemed to be raving about the quality to price ratio, so I figured why not?

About a week later, my brand new board arrived and my life changed for the better. I didn’t really know what to expect at first, but one year after getting the board, I can say with certainty that it’s the best purchase (of a physical item) that I’ve ever made.

There are a few different reasons for this, which I’ll go through one by one:

First up, transportation and cost savings. One of the initial reasons that electric skateboards were so enticing to me is that they come with a pretty long battery range, which makes them great for short range transportation. On the budget end, the Backfire I bought promised about 10-12 miles, but some of the higher end boards can go for more than 30 before their battery dies.

On one charge, that meant that I could commute about 5 miles either direction (or more if you pay for that feature) before my board died, or 10 miles either way if I had somewhere I could charge in-between. As someone without a lot of disposable income who wanted to minimize any unnecessary costs, this provided me with a perfect solution to one of the things that was going to take up a big chunk of my income each month: car bills.

At the time I was thinking about buying my board, I was planning on moving to a small town where everything would be within a few miles of me. I’d originally thought that since I was finally living on my own and commuting to work and school all the time, I’d have to buy a car. That thought was a little overwhelming, considering that it was going to cost a few hundred dollars a month in car payments plus insurance and gas. After looking at the board range, though, I realized that if I strategized well, I could use the board as a replacement. By spending only $400 on one single purchase, I could save myself $400 per month for at least a year.

So that’s what I did. Ever since I bought my board, I’ve been living car-less and just getting around with my board, a bike, or the bus. It’s saved me thousands of dollars already, and will only continue to save me money as long as it does enough to me to serve as a car substitute. Instead of driving, I now go to friends’ houses on my board, to the grocery store, to the gym, and to all sorts of errands.

Electric skateboards are also an excellent transportation option for those who cannot drive–either because they are too young, the traffic is too bad for it to be feasible, or because the cost of owning a car is simply too expensive.

Although this has worked great for me, I do want to provide a warning that this is not a solution for everyone. An electric skateboard will likely only be an effective car replacement for people who meet the following general profile:

  • Commute fewer than 10 miles per day (total).
  • Have enough time to travel only 15 miles per hour (or less) on their commute.
  • Live somewhere with roads that are safe and accessible to skateboards, meaning they have a smooth sidewalk or a wide bike lane and do not have a high level of fast-moving and/or reckless traffic.
  • Live somewhere where it is not constantly raining, snowing, or freezing. Electric skateboards cannot be ridden in water and perform poorly in cold conditions, leading to risk of severe battery drain
  • Have decent public transportation around them or access to an inexpensive car share service. Sometimes electric skateboards will not be enough. You may need to run an errand where you have to carry more than you can easily fit on your board or want to go on a hike somewhere it’s just not convenient to carry your board. In this case, you’ll need a good backup you can rely on.

Using electric skateboards as an alternative transportation method to cars has had the additional benefit of dramatically reducing my carbon footprint and making me feel much better about my impact on the environment.

The average car emits around 4.6 metric tons (a little over 10,000 pounds!) of CO2 annually. Per mile, electric skateboards emit only about 1/50th what the average car gives off (primarily through the efforts required in charging). Given that total annual mileage should be a lot less for a skateboard due to its short range and lower flexibility for transportation conditions, real world emissions are likely close to 1/100th or lower that of owning a car.

If you are concerned about global warming and want to take action to reduce your own impact on the problem, an electric skateboard is a really easy way to do so. You can have fun riding, while also feeling good about what you’re doing for the world! It’s a win-win.

One of the more unexpected benefits of investing in an electric skateboard was the impact it would have on social life and community.

I used to ride my skateboard around a local park most days and would have people regularly stop me to ask about my skateboard. It was a great conversation starter, helping me feel more connected to my community. It also served me really well for friendship building. At this point I’ve taught more than 10 people to ride, and it’s been an easy way of bringing people together. I’ve offered free lessons and people have always taken me up on it and loved the experience. Every single time, whomever I taught came away excited and ready to learn more, which provided good opportunities for continued friendship (you could probably use this tactic to get people to swipe right dating sites, too, if you were really invested).

If you live in a big city, electric skateboarding can provide an even bigger community. Many cities have Facebook groups where riders get together for skate meetups and group rides. Through participation in those events, you can meet others who share your hobby and make new friends. This is an especially great option if friendship isn’t something that comes naturally to you, since bonding through shared experience is a lot easier and less stressful way to make connections than just walking up to someone and starting a conversation cold.

Although the money and environmental protection are great, what’s most important in the long run is your own mental health and happiness, and that’s the area where I think buying an electric skateboard gave me the most benefit.

Skateboarding gave me a way to escape the stress of life. When I cruise down the street on my skateboard, I get into a rhythm, zooming back and forth in a repetitive pattern. It’s very calming, but it also requires focus to dodge sticks or rocks that might cause me to fall. This combination has proved really successful at getting me out of my own head and into a sort of flow state. When I skateboard, I’m not thinking about a frustrating work problem or homework assignment, I’m just cruising and relaxing.

Making it even better is the fact that skateboarding is an activity done outdoors without the need for a screen of any kind. I’ve always found excessive usage of computer screens to be exhausting and excessive time spent indoors to be a trigger for increased feelings of depression. With skateboarding, you have an opportunity to be outdoors, enjoying the wind, the birds, and the greenery, and a chance to take a break from screens–helping both with mental health and with eye strain and headache.

Participating in active transportation–skateboarding instead of driving–also has the benefit of getting you a small amount of exercise, waking you up in the morning, and giving you a hobby to think about while traveling to and from school or work instead of thinking about those places. While bikes can do this for you as well, electric skateboards have the particular benefit of being incredibly fun. Biking–one of the most popular forms of active transportation–can feel monotonous after a while, but for me, electric skateboarding has never gotten old. It’s always a thrill to hop on the board and always makes my day better.

Takeaways:

So would I say my board was worth $400? Absolutely. Before I bought one, I didn’t know if it would be worth it, but a year later, I think it was an absolute steal. Electric skateboards are absolutely worth it if you make the right choice. The board I got has brought me thousands of dollars of benefit and has improved my life in so many ways, and I’m so grateful that I decided to take the plunge and get one.

While I think that the budget board I chose was a great purchase for me, I don’t think that all electric skateboards are great deals, nor do I think they are right for everybody. Some come with incredibly hefty price tags––topping at multiple thousands of dollars––and that is likely not worth it for the average individual. Even a budget board may not be worth it if you live in a location that’s not conducive to electric skateboarding. However, if you live somewhere where skateboarding is convenient and have enough disposable income to afford it, a budget or mid-tier board could be a fantastic investment in the long run. Just make sure to do your research and pick an option of high quality. My Backfire has been fantastic, but it’s not the only great brand out there, so you should do your research and choose what’s right for you!


Let me know your thoughts on electric skateboards in the comments! Do any of these points sway you? If you have been looking for a while but haven’t bought one yet, what factors are limiting you?

Is Athletic Greens Worth It? A Buyer’s Guide

What Is Athletic Greens?

Athletic greens is a nutritional supplement that aims to help people make sure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals in their diet every day.

It is designed to be consumed daily–in drink form–and contains 75 different ingredients. According to the official site, the ingredients come from whole foods (and therefore are not artificial) and are accompanied by probiotics and digestive enzymes to help your body process them.

What Are The Potential (Advertised) Benefits?

The combination of ingredients in the drink is designed to have four primary benefits:

  • Boosting energy
  • Supporting recovery from intense workouts
  • Improving immune system function
  • Promoting better digestion

Each ingredient in the mix helps to promote at least one of these goals and a few promote multiple.

The full list of ingredients and their proposed benefits can be found here and should be reviewed before you purchase so that you know exactly what you’re getting.

How Much Does It Cost?

There are six different products for sale:

One Time Purchases

Although Athletic Greens is primarily a subscription service, you can buy a single pack of the drink mix. There are two different options:

  1. A pouch containing 30 servings of 12 grams each, which are not individually portioned –> $97 ($3.23/serving)
  2. A box containing 30 travel packs, which are individually packaged servings –> $107 ($3.57/serving)

If you don’t want just one pouch and would prefer to buy Athletic Greens on a recurring schedule via subscription, there are two options. A single subscription, where you get one set of 30 servings per month, and a double subscription where you get two sets of 30 servings (60 total).

Single Subscriptions

Like the single purchase, there are two options for single subscription:

  1. A monthly pouch containing 30 servings of 12 grams each, which are not individually portioned –> $77/month ($2.57/serving)
  2. A monthly travel pack box of 30 individually-packaged servings –> $87/month ($2.90/serving)

In addition, both of the subscriptions come with a bonus. Option 1 comes with a welcome kit with your first delivery, including a ceramic jar to hold powder and a shaker bottle to mix your drinks. Option 2 also has a welcome kit, but it only includes the shaker bottle.

Double Subscriptions

The double subscriptions are identical to the single ones except that they come with twice as many servings. Both come with the same bonus welcome kits as before. For the double subscriptions, it would cost:

  1. Two monthly bulk pouches with 60 servings of 12 grams total –> $147/month ($2.12/serving)
  2. Two monthly travel boxes with 60 servings total between them –> $167/month ($2.78/serving)

The Good

Listing Ingredients

If you are a customer in the United States, there is no regulation or oversight of quality for products sold in the country that are under the classification of health supplement. This means that anyone wanting to make a quick buck in the US market can make a product out of a bunch of random ingredients, claim it has a bunch of health benefits, and sell their product to many unsuspecting customers–without anyone checking if it actually does what’s advertised, or even if the ingredients are safe for human consumption. If buying in the US, you never want to trust a supplement that does not list exactly what it contains, because that is a likely indicator that whoever created it is probably not all that invested in the science.

(Supplements aren’t regulated in the US, so transparency about ingredients is really important!)

Anyone who really cares about science will actively promote that fact and be transparent about it, because that attracts loyal customers. This is especially important in the US, but applies to customers around the world as well. Clearly visible scientific content and transparency on a product website is great to see.

Athletic Greens does appear to be one of those brands invested in the science side of things. They list every single ingredient on their site, give a short description, and categorize them all by which benefits they give.

However, the one area where they fall short from top quality in this respect is that their ingredients page does not link out to scientific articles backing their claims. Although some of the ingredients are widely known to be scientifically-backed, not all of them are, and linking back to direct evidence would make their claims a lot more trustworthy.

Additional Safety / Nutrition Checks

Athletic Greens has also gone through an additional process to ensure that they are working with quality ingredients: getting NSF certified. NSF–The National Sanitation Foundation–is a global organization that conducts independent reviews of products to ensure that their ingredients and products meet certain standards for health, safety, and quality.

The NSF review process is pretty extensive and involves annual checks of manufacturing plants to ensure that they continue to operate at the same high standard over time. They ensure that no illegal substances are included in the final product and check that unsafe contaminants–such as heavy metals–do not get mixed in during production.

If a company goes through NSF review–as Athletic Greens has done–this is a great sign that they care about producing a quality product and that they are not cutting corners in their manufacturing process.

Digestion Improvements

Many reviews online indicate a positive impact on digestion, with Athletic Greens promoting more regular movement and reducing issues such as constipation.

Other Potential Benefits

  • Improved hydration
  • Energy boosting, particularly if you drink it early in the morning to get fluids going
  • Tits well into a lot of restrictive diets including vegan and paleo
  • Gluten free
  • Sugar free
  • Helps fit in vitamins at times when you can’t fully control your diet (such as on vacation/travel or during times where you don’t have enough time to cook for yourself at every meal)
  • Does not include any of the most common allergens

The Not So Good

Imbalanced Ingredients

The ingredients the mix are not balanced evenly. For some ingredients, the quantity in one serving of Athletic Greens is 100% or more of the daily recommended value (DV), while for others it’s as low as only a couple percent. That’s almost as useless as just leaving the ingredient out altogether and does feel like a little bit of false advertising.

Some of the vitamins and minerals that tend to be favored in the mix are Vitamin C (700% DV), Vitamin B12 (467% DV), Vitamin E (334% DV), Thiamin (200% DV), Vitamin B6 (150% DV), Riboflavin (118% DV), Biotin (110% DV), Niacin, Folate, and Zinc (All 100% DV).

Others are advertised to be included, but have such low amounts that they’re not really useful. These include Calcium (12% DV), Copper (10% DV), Potassium (9% DV), Magnesium (7% DV), and Phosphorous (6% DV). And some things that are necessary for optimal health (such as iodine, choline, and molybdenum) are left out completely.

(The supplement facts table–like a nutritional facts label, but with no oversight or verification–for Athletic Greens)

Proprietary Formula

There is no official breakdown of how many of each of the ingredients in the 75 item list actually goes into a daily serving (we just get an estimate of different vitamin and mineral percentages). This is because Athletic Greens uses a proprietary blend that is kept secret.

Usually the argument behind proprietary blends is to keep market share and prevent others from copying your recipe–and therefore not buying your brand–but the sheer number of ingredients and lack of availability via easy channels means that pretty much no average consumer could ever copy the recipe. There is not really too much of a valid reason for keeping the blend proprietary–besides potentially preventing other companies from trying to copy the recipe and take customers away from Athletic Greens–and it comes at a big cost of transparency.

Not All Ingredients Are Scientifically Backed

While some ingredients in the Athletic Greens formula have been scientifically shown to be beneficial (see dandelion root, ginger, green tea) others have not. For example, licorice root has not yet been shown to have any real health benefits and in some cases can actually lead to dangerous side effects.

Bad Taste

Many customers of Athletic Greens online have commented on the unpleasant taste of the mix. The best way to build sustainable habits is to set them up in a way that is enjoyable. If a daily activity is unpleasant, it is going to be very difficult to stick with long term. The only way to really keep up with a healthy habit long term–and actually go far enough to receive the benefits from that activity–is to make it enjoyable. If you hate the taste, Athletic Greens is probably not going to work for you in the long term.

Price $$$

Perhaps the most significant downside is the price. Athletic Greens costs nearly $3/day, which can start to add up really quickly. A single monthly subscription of the bulk pouch for an entire year would run nearly $1000 (and even more if you got the travel packs). You could buy a year long membership to a nice gym with that, which––for the average person––would probably be a much more useful way to spend that much money.

Athletic Greens is one of the most expensive greens powders out there, so it’s not hard to find something comparable that costs you less. You could also try the alternative option of just buying a multivitamin and fiber supplement and you’d get the same benefit without all the extra potentially non-useful ingredients.

Who Is It Right For?

If you meet all of the following conditions, then Athletic Greens might be a good option for you:

  • You have a lot of disposable income and can afford to drop $80 or more per month on supplements.
  • You do not dislike the taste of the mix (I’d recommend doing a trial period to test this out–they have a 60 day money back guarantee).
  • You do not already get your daily quantity of vitamins and minerals from your diet. If you do, it would be a waste of money to consume more, because your body won’t be able to absorb much else.
  • You travel a lot or have some other barrier that prevents you from being able to prep your own food regularly, limiting your ability to get all your vitamins and minerals from your normal diet. Note that if you don’t have this limitation, it’s probably a better option in the long run to learn how to just cook healthy and nutritionally dense meals for yourself, rather than relying on a powder that is not 100% scientifically backed.
  • You prioritize convenience over all else. Another way to get the same benefits as athletic greens would be through a combination of multivitamins and fiber supplements. That would likely be less expensive, but would take more steps.
(Daily supplements can be a great option for those always on the move.)

Who Is It Wrong For?

If you meet any of the following conditions, Athletic Greens probably isn’t right for you:

  • You don’t have a lot of disposable income.
    • What should you do, then?: try to purchase inexpensive, healthy fruits, vegetables and grains at the store to help promote a balanced and nutritious diet on a low budget (See the r/eatcheapandhealthy discussion board on Reddit for some great tips).
  • You already eat a balanced diet.
    • What should you do, then? Nothing. You probably don’t need a supplement. Just focus on getting good exercise in and you should be fine!
  • You don’t like the taste.
    • What should you do, then? Options include: 1. Find another greens powder you like better. 2. Take a multivitamin or pill combo that would not have as much of a taste. 3. Attempt to get your vitamins and minerals through your normal food, which tends to taste a lot more pleasant if you take the time to learn how to make enjoyable recipes.
  • You have the time and flexibility to learn how to plan and cook a healthy, balanced diet for yourself (or at least the time to pick out some multivitamins that might work better for you) and don’t need an instant solution to your lack of vitamins/minerals.
    • What should you do, then? Do some research into healthy eating. A good place to get some inspiration is r/healthyfood on Reddit, but there are thousands of resources easily accessible via search engine.
(If cooking is an option for you, that can be a healthier, cheaper, and more sustainable long term strategy.)

Takeaways

Athletic Greens is a decent greens powder–and can help meet daily vitamin and mineral needs–but it’s not likely to be the best option for most customers. The high price point and lack of balanced ingredients mean it is only best for those with a lot of money and not a lot of time. Anyone not in that category could likely do better with an alternative strategy for nutritional balance–whether that be another, less expensive, product or an entirely different health strategy altogether.

What Is Pre-workout? Does It Work? Is it Safe? Supplements 101

Welcome to a new series, Supplements 101, where I break down the science behind different fitness supplements and help you find what’s right for you!

This week, Pre-Workout 101:

  • What is pre-workout?
  • What is is it made of?
  • Is it actually useful? (A review of scientific papers)
  • Is it safe to consume?

This post will not cover which pre-workout brands are best and what to look for when purchasing, but I’m hoping to continue this series and cover that in a later post, so stay tuned!

What is it?

Pre-workout is a supplement commonly taken shortly before a workout (between 15-60 minutes). It is used to increase focus, energy, and endurance. Sometimes you’ll also find ones that advertise “pump”, which essentially means making your muscles look bigger.

[Pre-workout is sometimes used for improving muscle size/definition at the gym]

Pre-workout is typically sold as a powder that can be mixed with water and consumed as a drink. It is often flavored–coming in options such as watermelon, limeade, or orange mango–to enhance the taste and make it more enjoyable. It can also be purchased as a pill, though that is much less common.

Its effects typically last for a few hours, though they tend to peak earlier on in that time frame.

It is typically taken frequently–often between 3-6 times per week–and in small doses.

What is it made of?

Pre-workout supplements are typically made from some combination of the following ingredients. Not all ingredients listed below are present in every pre-workout mix:

  • Arginine [Semi-essential amino acids]
  • Branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) [Amino acids]
  • Beta-alanine [Non-essential amino acid]
  • Caffeine [Stimulant]
  • Creatine [Compound derived from amino acids]
  • DMAA [Stimulant]
  • L-citrulline [Non-essential amino acid]
  • Niacin [B vitamin]
  • Phosphorus/phosphates [Element]
  • Taurine [Acid]

In pre-workout supplements, these are often combined as part of a proprietary formula, which means that the sellers do not disclose the exact amounts of each ingredient.

In the United States, sellers must only list which ingredients are included and order them in descending order by quantity. Since most distributors leave details out, is almost impossible with most products to know how much of each substance is being consumed per serving.

This is especially true when considering that even when sellers say how much of an ingredient they include, their claim does not always match reality. For example, a study of pre-workouts in Australia found that only 6 out of 15 nutrition labels included details on caffeine content at all, and in those that did, the actual amount of caffeine ranged anywhere from 59% to 176% of what the packaging claimed!

Is it useful / backed by science?

Although many pre-workout brands tout the impressive effects of their mixes, most of the ingredients aren’t all strongly backed by science. Studies have indicated that many of the ingredients–when taken in proper doses–can benefit individuals with certain health conditions or have generic wellness benefits, but not many studies have conclusively shown benefits for athletic performance.

In fact, of all the ingredients listed above, creatine is the only one with a long history of positive scientific backing for performance enhancing effects. The rest have pretty mixed reviews, with a few studies even showing negative effects–particularly when multiple of the above ingredients are mixed together, as they are in most pre-workout mixes.

Is it safe to take?

Pre-workout is generally considered safe for most people, but there are some significant concerns to be wary of.

1. Lack of Regulation

In the United States, supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way that food or medications are. Producers are NOT required to disclose the quantities of each ingredient that they include in their mixes. This makes it difficult to know whether you are actually consuming a safe, recommended dose. It can be easy to overdose on an ingredient if you pick the wrong brand.

2. Drug Interactions

Many of the ingredients in pre-workout mixes interact with common medications to produce what can sometimes be dangerous side effects by preventing the drugs from operating properly–and sometimes causing serious reactions.

For example:

  • Arginine (L-arginine) has been known to interact with blood thinners, blood pressure regulators, and diabetes medications
  • Taking DMAA with other stimulants (such as caffeine) can cause increased heart rate and high blood pressure
  • BCAAs can combine with blood sugar medications to cause dangerously low levels

If you take any sort of medication, you should absolutely consult a health professional before taking pre-workout. Given the large number of ingredients, there is anon-negligible chance that one of them could react dangerously with your other drugs.

[Be very careful with pre-workout supplements. They can lead to drug interactions resulting in serious problems like high blood pressure].

3. Side Effects

Although most of the side effects of pre-workout ingredients are relatively mild, they can at times have serious effects.

An otherwise healthy 33 year old woman was admitted to the ER with heart problems after taking pre-workout and a 25 year old man–also with no serious conditions–had a stroke after taking a pre-workout supplement called Animal Rage XL.

Pre-workouts have also generally been known to occasionally cause high blood pressure, heart issues, and gastrointestinal distress.

4. Dangers During Pregnancy

Pre-workouts are especially dangerous to pregnant women, primarily due to their stimulant content.

Stimulants have been shown to lead to premature birth, low birth weight, fetal deformities, and heart problems. Even a daily consumption of as little as half a cup of coffee can lead to lower birth weight, and pre-workouts typically have much higher caffeine concentrations than that.

Pre-workout during pregnancy is very risky and should only be used after thorough consultation with a doctor.

Summary of Ingredients, Uses, Scientific Research, and Safety

To help promote a well-rounded understanding of pre-workout, I’ve created a table summarizing the main categories discussed above: what the ingredients are, their purported benefits, scientific evidence of performance enhancement, and potential side effects.

Conclusion

Pre-workout supplement mix, taken shortly before a gym session, may provide some benefits, however:

  • There is not much scientific evidence to back up its effectiveness
  • Usefulness likely varies dramatically by brand due to differences in ingredient concentrations, and also by individual
  • It can be dangerous for those who are pregnant or who are taking other medications

Do not blindly trust pre-workout supplements you come across. Do your research to find reputable brands–preferably those that tend to have lower doses of stimulants (the more dangerous ingredients) and disclose what they put into their mix. And if you fall into a group at risk of side effects, do not take pre-workout without first consulting with a doctor.


If there’s anything else you’d like me to cover related to pre-workout, or other supplements you’d like to have covered in this series, please share in the comments!

Sources / Learn More

Common Ingredient Profiles of Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements
https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/2/254

Common Habits, Adverse Events, and Opinions Regarding Pre-Workout Supplement Use Among Regular Consumers
https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/4/855

Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review
https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6

The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12970-016-0138-7

Effects of Pre-Workout Supplements on Power Maintenance in Lower Body and Upper Body Tasks
https://www.mdpi.com/2411-5142/3/1/11

Caffeine content of pre-workout supplements commonly used by Australian consumers
https://doi.org/10.1002/dta.2501

Efficacy and safety of ingredients found in preworkout supplements
http://websites.rcc.edu/estrada/files/2019/07/Efficacy-and-safety-of-ingredients-found-Article.pdf

Impacts of Caffeine during Pregnancy
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043276019302267?casa_token=rd-U4gMBB5kAAAAA:MWBIqZlCHO7PnA6_eTKDWb2WI1l8GZOhphLlYytsOFsnqAaMC5pkwa9dcR5AoTJ2PyHCErc-Kg

What Makes A Great Workout Song? – A Spotify Deep Dive

This week, we’re taking a deep dive into one of my favorite things: music.

Like a lot of people, music is a big part of my fitness journey. I have multiple workout playlists on Spotify and always listen to one when I’m at the gym. If I forget headphones and have to go without music that day, I never perform my best.

Even though workout music is important to me, I’ve never been able to master the art of playlist design. My playlists just tend to be my favorite upbeat songs at the time. They are all over the place musically and thematically, which can sometimes be a little bit jarring.

So in my journey to create the ultimate workout playlist, I decided I needed to look beyond just myself–tracking down some of the most popular workout playlists right now in an effort to answer the question: “What makes a great workout song?”

Naturally, I turned to data for my answer.

Luckily for me, Spotify, one of the most popular streaming services around the world–and my music platform of choice–makes a lot of its data publicly available through an API.

So I connected to it and began to investigate.

To make sure things were data-centric, I focused only on playlists created by Spotify. Since their platform design is based around machine-learning, it seemed probable that Spotify’s playlists were likely more data-informed than standard users’ playlists, and therefore more likely to contain the “best” songs. Additionally, Spotify-created playlists were significantly easier to search and access through the API.

So here’s what I found: the best workout songs of 2021, according to Spotify.


Spotify collects data on quite a few different numeric values for each song on their platform. For the purposes of this analysis, I focused on the following:

  • Valence (A measure of a song’s “happiness” level)
  • Energy (On a scale of 0 to 1)
  • Loudness (although Spotify normalizes the audio of their tracks to keep them at relatively consistent levels, there is still some variation)
  • Danceability (On a scale of 0 to 1)
  • Tempo (Beats Per Minute/BPM)
  • Track age in years (Spotify’s raw data includes the release date, which was used to calculate this field)

If you want to learn more about these metrics, you can check out the Spotify API documentation here, though it is important to note that I did not pull the information straight through the API, but rather through an interface in the spotifyr software package.

In an effort to understand what sets a song apart as a great “Workout” song, enough for Spotify to include in their workout-specific playlists, I wanted see how Workout music looks in comparison to other genres across these different variables.

To do this, I selected a handful of genres and compared them using the metrics defined previously. The six genres I used were Workout, Rock, Pop, Indie, Hip Hop, and EDM/Dance music.

We can see the results of this analysis in the gallery below. Each graph shows the distributions of each of our variables of interest for our six selected genres of choice. To get a sense of the “standard” workout song, I also calculated the median values–representing the midline, where 50% of songs fall above and 50% fall below–for each distribution, illustrated by a vertical black line.

According to this analysis, the songs that Spotify has highlighted as great workout music seem to be distinct from our other genres. What sets them apart?

Let’s consider valence first. Compared with other genres, workout music seems to be pretty middle of the road on the happiness scale. There are a higher proportion of happy workout songs than EDM and dance songs, but a lower proportion than indie and hip hop. However, the happiness level of workout songs can vary dramatically. Some songs rate very low on the happiness scale, while others rate very high.

Energy is also quite interesting. Workout songs tend to be quite high energy compared with other genres, matching up pretty well with the energy of rock music and EDM/dance music. They are typically a lot more energetic than pop, indie, or hip hop songs. And this makes sense when we think about the purpose of workout music–to keep you motivated and working hard during a workout! Low energy, “chill” songs would likely not be all that productive.

Given that, you might be wondering why there’s a low energy bump for the workout category. It turns out that the low energy songs belong to a yoga-specific playlist, which is classified by Spotify in the same way that songs for a standard gym playlist would be.

What about loudness? Just like with energy, workout music is at the top. Workout songs have the highest median loudness of any of our genres, with some standout low yoga songs once again.

For danceability, workout music is no longer at the top. Workout songs tend to be moderately danceable–more than rock and indie, but less than hip hop. Workout music does appear to have the highest danceability range of any of the genres, though. There does not appear to be a clear danceability number shared by workout songs.

What about tempo? For this measure, workout songs seem to be pretty average, hovering around a median tempo of 125 BPM. They seem to share the same peak density as EDM/Dance songs and are faster than a lot of hip hop songs.

As for track length, once again, nothing stands out all that much. Workout songs tend to hover around a median track length of about 200 seconds (a little over three minutes), which is a little shorter than rock and indie songs and similar to pop and EDM music. Additionally, a much lower proportion of songs are over 5 minutes (300 seconds) for the workout genre compared with other genres.

Finally, song age. This metric produced one of the more interesting graphs, with the distributions for the genres looking dramatically different. Workout music was again relatively middle of the road–with a median song age of around 2 years. Workout songs did tend to be a little bit older than the songs on EDM, hip hop, or pop playlists–but what stood out most to me was just how much newer they were than the songs on rock and indie playlists, which both had median ages of over a decade old!

So what does this tell us about the perfect workout song–according to Spotify? If we’re looking just at median values, it looks like the ideal workout song is:

  • Moderately happy
  • High energy
  • Quite loud
  • Pretty danceable
  • About 125 BPM
  • A little over 3 minutes long
  • A couple of years old

However, not all workout songs have to look exactly the same and be carbon copies on these different metrics. In fact, to create a great playlist of multiple good workout songs, there should be some variety, with some songs higher energy than others, a mix of song lengths, and variation in danceability.

To see what this mix might look like, let’s look at the top 5 workout songs by overall popularity (which Spotify classifies as popularity relative to similar music, not all music in general).

The most popular workout songs on Spotify’s playlists as of August 2021 are listed below, alongside links to their music videos if you’re curious:

  • Bad Habits – Ed Sheeran [Watch]
  • I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE – Måneskin [Watch]
  • INDUSTRY BABY (feat. Jack Harlow) – Lil Nas X [Watch]
  • STAY (with Justin Bieber) – The Kid LAROI [Watch]
  • Yonaguni – Bad Bunny [Watch]

If we look at these in terms of their relative values for those metrics we mentioned previously, we see that the songs are quite mixed in their features.

For example, Bad Habits is the most danceable song by far, but also has the slowest tempo and the longest duration. Industry Baby is quieter than the other songs, but on the happier end. STAY is not very danceable, and the shortest song of the bunch, but it has a pretty high tempo and higher energy than most of the other songs.

This graph makes it clear that there’s no one formula for what makes a top workout song. No two workout songs are identical and they all trade off in terms of different features.

To build a great workout playlist, it looks like we want a mix of songs that fall generally near our median metrics, though there is some flexibility.

For fun, let’s explore a few other variables. First up, explicitness. An explicit rating means that a song contains curse words and/or sexual, violent, or offensive content. Typically, musicians are expected to tag their own music for explicitness, so this can be subjective. However, if the streaming platform a song is hosted on determines that a song is explicit and it has not been marked as such, it can result in penalties for that artist, such as their music being made invisible to listeners. As a result, most musicians are inclined to review their songs carefully and provide accurate ratings.

When we look at explicitness, we once again find workout songs in the middle. A little over 20% of workout songs are tagged as explicit–significantly more than indie, EDM, or rock, but less than pop and much less than hip hop.

What about song title? Can we glean anything from the titles of workout songs? Are there any clear themes across them?

Below we have a word cloud of the most common words that appeared in the titles of the songs on Spotify’s curated workout playlists. Word clouds aren’t the most scientifically useful, but they do provide us a quick visual glance at what’s going on.

The one word that stands out the most here is “feat”, a shortened term for the word “featuring”, which indicates that one artist has brought in another artist for a guest appearance on their track. Workout playlists seem to have a lot of songs with guest artists, rather than songs done by one individual or group.

So there we have it: a look at what makes a great workout song. Since the “perfect” workout song is quite a subjective measure, I’m curious: What’s your favorite workout song? What features make a workout song great for you? Did you find anything interesting in this article that changed your view of workout music?

And if you want to check out some of the songs analyzed for this project, here are a few of Spotify’s top workout playlists:


For more posts like this, check out the Data Analysis category on the blog!

If you liked this, and want me to continue doing more posts about workout music, let me know what type of work and analysis you’d like to see!

Why I Have A Minimalist Fitness Wardrobe – And Why You Should Too

In the world of fitness, it’s easy to get pulled into the consumerism cycle. There are ads for fitness gear everywhere, telling you that their product is something you need to be able to do your best at the gym. It can feel sometimes like if you don’t purchase an item, you’ll feel left out–no longer one of the cool kids.

Then you keep buying and buying because you think you need all this gear to fit in or be good at your sport. You end up with a whole dresser full of fitness clothes. And how much do you actually wear? Probably just a few of your favorites, and the rest just gets abandoned.

We’ve all been stuck in this trap at some point in our lives, and it’s never fun. It feels like you’re just wasting endless money on these things that you don’t need, but it’s so hard to break free, so you just keep doing it.

For me, that was true until I discovered minimalism.

What Is Minimalism And Why Is It Beneficial?

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle just means that you only buy the things that you’ll actually need and use, and that bring you joy and positive benefits in your life.

If we’re talking about fitness, that can mean that rather than owning three or four different pairs of running shoes, you just own one. Rather than an entire rainbow of yoga pants, some of which might not actually be all that high quality but just look cool, you own a few that are really good.

Why adopt this lifestyle? What are the benefits of minimalism?

There are a bunch, but i’ll just list a few so you get the idea:

  1. You spend way less money. If you only own a few things and don’t need any more, you only need to spend to replace your items when they wear out! And if you pick up a new fitness hobby and need to buy something for it, you’ll only end up with a handful of essentials, rather than a whole shopping haul worth of items. It can save you thousands of dollars over even just a couple of years, depending on how big of a spender you are.
  2. It’s much better for the environment. Rather than buy a bunch of items and throwing them away–which just creates a bunch of unnecessary waste–you only own what you need and don’t create excess trash.
  3. It makes it much easier to decide what to wear. Rather than spend half an hour picking a gym outfit to impress the public (who realistically will mostly be focused on themselves), when you have a minimalist wardrobe, it only takes maybe two minutes to decide. This is also really true if you travel. It is so much easier to decide what to bring when you get used to living off very little.
  4. You typically end up with much higher quality stuff. If you’re only going for items that really benefit you, you often end up much more thoughtful about what you’re purchasing, because it typically means that the item will last a lot longer. Rather than buying a random pair of yoga pants from Target, for example, you might buy a pair from Lululemon or Athleta. It costs more up front, but provides more long term benefit.

Minimalism in Practice – A Look At My Closet

To give you an idea of what that looks like in my own life, here’s all the fitness items I own.

You can see, it’s super basic. I’ve only got one pair of running shoes, a couple shirts, some sports bras, and a few options for shorts or pants based on the temperature. And that’s it, besides some specialized gear I need for some of my favorite sports. Everything else just comes from my normal closet.

How do I stick to such a minimalist fitness wardrobe?

  • I typically exercise in mild conditions to reduce the amount of gear that I need for extreme weather. Since I live in a cold climate, the temperature differences between summer and winter can be extreme, and to exercise in the cold, snow, or rain, I’d need lots of extra gear. I get around that by only exercising outdoors in the spring through the fall, then only exercising indoors during the long winter. I also try not to do too much in the rain, which might warrant the need for heavy rain gear.
  • I choose sports that don’t require a lot of specialized equipment or regular equipment upgrades. Rock climbing and kickboxing are both fantastic workouts and great social activities that don’t require a lot of gear. To boulder (which is what I mainly do), all you need is a pair of climbing shoes and a bag for chalk. To do kickboxing, you just need gloves and wraps to protect your wrists. As long as you don’t do either sport all the time or to an elite level, and just mix in other workouts, the gear should last at least a few years before needing to be replaced.
  • I mix in items from my normal wardrobe for my workouts. If I’m lifting weights at the gym, I’ll probably just wear a standard t-shirt and some flat-soled shoes (often Converse or Vans) with my gym shorts. I don’t need any specialized gear. Same thing with rock climbing. I typically just wear a normal t-shirt and sometimes even stretchy jeans and it’s never posed a problem for me. This reduces the overall amount of gear I need to buy, since I need to use it less often. I probably only need yoga pants or a tech tee once or twice a week, so I only have two of each. It’s the same with sports bras. I only wear them when doing high impact sports (involving jumping or running). The rest of the time, just a normal bralette (I’ve basically abandoned underwire in my normal wardrobe due to discomfort, and bralettes just feel like more comfortable sports bras). I would skip the sports bra if climbing or lifting weights, for example.

Reflections on the Minimalist Lifestyle

Switching to minimalism has improved my life dramatically, and I’d recommend it to pretty much everyone.

Even though I thought at first that I’d feel frustrated or uninspired by the lack of choice in my wardrobe, it hasn’t been that way at all. In fact, more the opposite. I love the lack of choice. It’s so easy for me to just pop on my only clean pair of shorts, and a random t-shirt and be good to go for the gym. As someone who easily lets things prevent me from working out, it’s been a great way of reducing the barriers keeping me from exercising.

It’s definitely not been perfect. I’ve had a couple of times where I ended up a little short on clothing (usually weeks where I suddenly had to do a lot of intensive cardio and didn’t have enough clean sports bras). However, I’m still very satisfied with the wardrobe and would never consider going to a more normal number of items. Instead, I’m just working on optimizing the handful of things that I do have to make them most useful for me.

The pros absolutely have outweighed the cons for me, though, particularly in the realm of money. I’ve maybe had to buy one or two new items per year for the last few years, and that’s it. Compared with people who buy that many new items per week or per month, I’ve saved so much money, and it’s helped me cut back spending in other aspects of my life too.

Sounds pretty great, right?

If the minimalist wardrobe interests you, start thinking about how you can reduce your wardrobe size and pick out just the items you truly benefit from. It won’t be an easy process, and will probably take a long time, but if you stick with it it will almost certainly pay off.

And if you’re stuck at all on where to start, stay tuned. I’m planning on putting out more minimalism posts in the coming months.

[FAFQ] How Do I Fit Exercise In On A Tight Schedule?

If you’re a full time student, work a job that has a demanding schedule, have a lot of parenting responsibilities, or have any other limitations on your free time, you’ve probably struggled trying to fit exercise in alongside everything else. You know it’s important–but it just feels so hard to find the time to get it done.

Know you’re not alone. I went through four years of an incredibly busy undergrad–working the majority of the day 7 days a week while trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA, conduct research, have a social life, be part of clubs, and work a part time job. Now, I work full time in the tech industry and am adding on some grad school classes to that workload. My life has been incredibly busy for a long time now, and at first, I had no idea how to make it all work. Exercise fell to the wayside as I prioritized my work. Slowly but surely, though, I found a way to fit exercise into my tight schedule.

I never found that much helpful guidance on the Internet while I was going through my own struggle with this, so I wanted to share some advice on what worked for me in the hopes that it will help you out.

1. Prioritize Your Health

The most important factor for me was prioritizing my health. The only way to reliably ensure that I got my workouts in was to tell myself that health matters more than the other tasks on my plate.

To be optimally equipped for whatever is taking up all of your time–and to live a happy and fulfilling life–you need to be healthy. Taking the steps to ensure that your body is in good shape–even if it can feel like a waste of time in the short run–is going to be a much better investment than spending that time on, say, adding the finishing touches to your essay for school.

I found that my performance in school and work did not diminish at all when I prioritized my fitness and made an effort to ensure I was getting adequate exercise. In fact, it actually seemed to increase because I felt like I had more energy, better focus, and fewer depressive thoughts.

So take action to prioritize your health. Rather than staying late at work, take 30 minutes to go on a run. Rather than perfecting your powerpoint, go lift some weights. Put exercise at the top of your priorities list and things will start to get easier.

One way to help make sure this happens is to physically add your exercise time into your calendar! This will help make your brain think it is on the same importance level as the rest of your appointments and calendar items.

2. Pick A Strategic Time To Work Out

I’ve found that the timing of exercise plays a big role in getting me to stick with it. If I try to exercise at the end of the day, I’m usually exhausted. I work extra hard to find myself an excuse not to go. But if I go first thing in the morning, before I head to work or school, then it’s way easier. I can cross it off the list and don’t need to think about it again.

What works for me, though, does not work for everyone! Some find it easiest to work out on a lunch break, in the mid afternoon, or even late at night. You should test out a few different times until you find out which time has you wanting to get out of it the least often.

To make this process even easier, I also recommend strategizing so that your timing fits with the location of your fitness activity in a way that promotes maximum convenience. What does this mean? For example, if you go to college, scheduling your gym workout right before/after class so you can just do the gym and class in one trip rather than make yourself have to take a separate trip for your workout. Or if you work an office job, find a gym between home and work and go on your way there or on your way home. This decreases mental resistance and can also help build in a routine if you stick with the same schedule.

Decrease resistance by scheduling your exercise alongside other trips, such as on the way to/from work or school.

3. Find Some Form Of External Accountability

Fitness classes are a great way to motivate you to stick with your workouts.

Some people have really strong internal motivation and discipline and–all on their own–can make themselves exercise every day even if they don’t want to. But for most people, it’s not that easy. External accountability can be a great way to get that extra push if you can’t motivate yourself.

Two of my favorite ways to promote external accountability are: 1. Find an accountability buddy, and 2. Sign up for a paid class.

The idea with the first is quite simple. Find another person–a friend, a coworker, or a family member–who is also interested in working on their fitness and agree to hold one another accountable. Tell your buddy your exercise goals and ask them to check in with you to make sure you’re achieving them and actually doing your workouts like you say you are. That can mean agreeing to share pictures from your workouts, having your buddy text you a reminder to go exercise, discussing your exercise plan for the day, or anything else you come up with. If negative reinforcement works for you, you can also ask them to tell you to do better when you fail. In exchange, agree to do the same for your buddy.

I’ve found that having someone else check in on me makes sticking with my habits really easy, because when I fail, I’m no longer just letting myself down–I’m also letting someone else down–and that provides a lot of motivation to keep me going.

Another option is to use a fitness class–particularly a paid one–as external motivation. The great thing about fitness classes is that they are on a set schedule. If you miss one, it’s over. You can’t make it up, unlike a normal workout that you might complete alone. That by itself can be a great motivator to exercise. You don’t want to miss out, so you take the extra effort to make sure you make it to the class. If money is involved, this motivational power is much stronger (at least it has been for me). If you pay $150/month for a class that happens twice a week, each class costs you nearly $20! If you don’t go, it feels like you’re just tossing a $20 bill down the drain. You want to get your money’s worth, so you’ll go to class even if you’re not feeling it. If it weren’t a paid event, you’d probably skip.

The one place you need to be careful with this strategy, though, is to make sure you don’t pick a class that’s too time consuming. If you sign up for a two-hour class three times per week, that’s a pretty big time commitment and will form a bigger mental block in your head than something shorter. If you’ve had. a busy day and don’t have much time, it’s going to be way easier to do some kickboxing for 45 minutes than to do a 90 minute weightlifting session. In my experience, the optimal class time is 45-6- minutes, no more than three times per week.

4. Use The 2-Day Rule For Habit Formation

In order to fit exercise into a tight schedule, it’s important to make it a regular habit–to integrate it so that it just becomes a normal part of your schedule.

One of my favorite habit-building tips to help facilitate this is to use the 2-day rule. I learned about this strategy from one of my favorite productivity YouTubers, Matt D’Avella. The basic idea with the 2-day rule is this: don’t allow yourself to take off more than one day in a row from the habit you’re building (in this case, exercise). If you work out on Wednesday, you can take Thursday off, but then you need to start back up again on Friday.

A sample workout calendar using the 2-day rule

This is one of the easiest ways to make exercise a habit. If you stick with the 2-day rule for a few weeks or months, exercise will start to come naturally to you. Once it becomes part of your routine, it almost takes more effort to not do it than to do it.

You can learn more about. the 2-day rule in Matt’s video here.

5. Consider Exercise Multitasking

If setting aside a long chunk of time just for exercising feels like a little too much of an ask, you can also try what I call exercise multitasking: when your exercise activity accomplishes more than just the goal of increased fitness.

What does this look like in practice? Some ideas include:

  • Instead of driving to work/school, make your commute–something you already have to do–an opportunity for fitness. Bike, walk, scooter, or skateboard instead.
Skateboarding is my favorite alternative (and active) transportation method!
  • Rather than having purely separate social time and exercise time, combine them. Sign up for a group fitness class or get a friend to go to the gym with you.
  • Combine exercise and learning. Listen to an audiobook or podcast while doing your workout,
  • If you work at an office that has conference calls or you have meetings on your schedule that can be completed audio-only, try a walking meeting, where you bring your phone and headphones with you and take your call while on a walk. This is an easy way to get 30-60 minutes of exercise in without adding any time to your normal schedule.

Fitting exercise in on a tight schedule can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. With some thoughtful strategizing, you can almost always make time for healthy habits.


I want to hear what worked for you and what didn’t! If you found anything helpful–or even counterproductive–in these recommendations share your thoughts with me.

For more answers Frequently Asked Fitness Questions, see this collection.

Ronda Rousey and the Rise of Women’s MMA [Femme FITale #3]

Mixed martial arts (MMA)–a combat sport combining techniques from a variety of disciplines such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Kickboxing, and Wrestling–was a men’s game until the 2010s, when its fate was forever changed by “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, the women’s MMA superstar whose career ushered in a new era of combat sports.

Rousey’s career did not start in MMA, though. She grew up competing in Judo, performing well enough to get a spot in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as the youngest athlete in her sport, and following in the footsteps of her mother–AnnMaria De Mars–who was the first American to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championships.

After her impressive 2008 achievement of becoming the first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo, Rousey decided to leave the sport in favor of MMA and began training in a variety of martial arts disciplines.

At the time, women were only competing in amateur leagues or in smaller MMA professional organizations–like Strikeforce–but were left out of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC): the heavyweights of televised pay-per-view MMA.

That all changed in November 2012 when Ronda Rousey became the first female fighter to sign with the UFC, a moment which set off a chain of events that finally brought women’s MMA into the spotlight.

Viewers began to tune into women’s fights and the UFC began to schedule more and more, reaching a peak of nearly 100 women’s fights in 2019-2020, a dramatic increase from the mere handful held in 2012-2013, after Rousey’s signing. Although women’s fights still make up a minority of UFC’s schedule, they are incredibly popular, with some headline fights viewed by millions around the world.

Rousey did not have to compete in a lot of fights to have a big impact. She only fought eight times over her four year tenure for a total of less than 30 minutes in the octagon, but she did more for her sport in those 30 minutes than many athletes will do for theirs in a lifetime.

Rousey destroyed her competition for six fights in a row, utilizing her judo skills to take out her opponents quickly with arm-bar submissions and the crowd loved the show, quickly growing interested in watching more women’s fights. Five of her six victories were incredibly dominant, lasting only one round, with two of them (versus Alexis Davis and Cat Zingano) taking fewer than 20 seconds each from start to finish.

However, Rousey’s winning streak didn’t last forever. Her UFC career ended abruptly and, as many fans would argue–in flames–after she attempted to take on Holly Holm, a much more experienced striker, and Amanda Nunes, one of the greatest fighters to touch women’s MMA, looking greatly outclassed in both fights. With no chance of getting her champion title back, Rousey retired from the sport soon after.

What made Rousey so dominant early on, and what failed her versus Holm and Nunes?

Below we look at a table of Rousey’s stats from her eight fights (with the exception of the 2015 bout versus Cat Zingano, for which the data was not available). Each number represents the proportion of attempts of each particular move that Rousey landed successfully: significant strikes, total strikes, takedowns, strikes to the head/body/leg, strikes from distance, strikes from clinch position, and strikes from the ground. Each number is colored according to the percentile that it falls into relative to measures of each statistic across all women’s UFC fights, with darker colors representing higher level performance. For example, in all of her victorious fights, Rousey’s proportion of successful body strikes was in the top 25% of all female fighters from all bouts in UFC history.

Rousey’s success in her early days was characterized by incredibly high success rates in many areas (significant strikes, total strikes, takedowns, head strikes, and body strikes). Rousey performed poorly at strikes from distance, but her takedown and grappling skills were enough to get her through with relative ease.

However, most of Rousey’s opponents early on were not particularly advanced strikers, and their lack of skill in that particular field gave Rousey the opportunity to put in a lot of successful hits. When Rousey finally fought against a strong striker in Holly Holm, it was all over for her. Holm easily handled Rousey with her superior striking power, taking her out with a powerful kick to the head and leaving Rousey with her worst ever performance–in the bottom 25% for most metrics, and in the bottom half for the rest. Although she did a little better statistically versus Amanda Nunes, Rousey couldn’t keep up with the never-ending barrage of right hand punches.

[Image: Proportion of Rousey’s strikes that were successful, colored by percentile relative to ALL women’s UFC fights: Significant Strikes, Total Strikes, Takedowns, Strikes to the Head / Body / Leg, Strikes from Distances, Strikes from Clinch Position, and Strikes from Ground Position]

Although Rousey may have lost badly to Holm and Nunes and hurt her reputation pretty severely in the process, across her career she was still an above average fighter overall in the UFC, performing in the top half for most metrics, and she definitely earned her place in fighting history.

How do you think Rousey ranks? Was she a great fighter, despite her sudden and dramatic downfall? I certainly think a case could be made.


Data: https://www.kaggle.com/rajeevw/ufcdata

My Favorite Cheap, Easy, and Healthy Lunch and Dinner Meals Under $3

Cooking at home is one of my favorite ways to stay healthy, but it can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Lots of recipes take hours to make or require expensive ingredients you’ll probably never use again. And those that are quick often tend to be somewhat unhealthy (e.g. mac and cheese or a hot dog). It can really feel like there’s no winning.

To help fight off this feeling, I’m starting a recipe series where I’ll share some of my favorite meals that don’t fall prey to those same issues and occasionally a few that fall closer to the less healthy category. The goal of diversity in recipe suggestion is to promote balanced eating, something I strive for daily and talk about more in depth in my diet philosophy introduction here. I recommend checking that out for background on my views on food.

For this installation, I’m sharing a few of my favorite non-breakfast foods that can be made for cheap and that consist of relatively healthy ingredients.

1. Tofu Spring Rolls

Spring rolls are a classic Vietnamese staple. They’re simple, delicious, packed with vegetables, and infinitely customizable, which makes them almost a perfect food.

The main things you’ll need for tofu spring rolls are:

Rolls

  • 1 container (about 16 oz) of firm or extra firm tofu
  • 2 cups cooked vermicelli noodles (I like to use brown rice-based ones if I can find them, but if you can’t, white is okay too)
  • Around 12 rice paper wraps
  • Fillings of choice (recommended options include cabbage, shredded carrots, mint, and cilantro but you can pick and choose based on whatever you have on hand that sounds good).

Peanut Sauce

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (try to find the kind with no added sugar and just peanuts/salt if you can)
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce, based on salt desires
  • 1-2 tablespoons of chili garlic sauce (this stuff) depending on spice desires
  • Approx 1 teaspoon of rice wine vinegar
  • Juice of a small lime (or half a large one)
  • Some water for thinning

The recipe is super simple:

  1. Drain and press your tofu about 30 minutes before you’re ready to get started.
  2. Once your tofu is drained, you’re ready to go! Take everything that goes into the peanut sauce and mix it all together in a small bowl. Play with the proportions of ingredients until you find something you like. The amounts I provided are guidelines but peanut sauce is often up to personal taste. The sauce is usually pretty chunky before you add water, so once you’ve mixed everything else together, add water until it gets smooth and relatively fluid.
  3. Chop up your tofu into small chunks (I usually go for rectangular chunks rather than squares because they fit better into the wrappers) and toss into a hot pan over canola oil. Cook until these look brown and no longer wet.
  4. Cook your vermicelli noodles. While those are going, you can prep whatever veggies you’re putting in (shred your carrots/cabbage, etc).
  5. When the noodles are done, you’re ready to fill. Get a bowl of warm to hot water and get your rice paper. Make each roll by taking a sheet of paper, dunking it in the water until it’s soft, pulling it out, and filling with tofu, veggies, and vermicelli. When done, wrap the roll up however you please. I typically go for a burrito style where I roll up the ends first, then go lengthwise.
  6. Repeat until you run out of fillings.
  7. To eat, dip the rolls in peanut sauce.

To make this even better, I also recommend adding a step of marinating your tofu (for about 30 minutes) after you press it. I left it out to keep within the time constraints, but it does add a lot of flavor. I typically use soy sauce, chili garlic sauce and sesame oil as my main marinade ingredients but this is up to you.

2. Lentil Tacos

Lentils are one of my recent food discoveries and a new favorite. They’re hearty and packed with all kinds of nutrients. And as someone who doesn’t love the texture of many other vegetable protein sources–such as beans-these are a lot more palatable.

You can swap out ground beef in a taco recipe with red lentils to boost the healthiness of the meal. Although it doesn’t taste exactly the same, I think it’s a pretty good substitute and has a lot of great flavor in its own right.

Here’s what you need to make lentil tacos:

  • 3/4 cup dry red lentils
  • A little under 2 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable, up to you)
  • A little under 1 cup of your favorite salsa
  • Some sort of oil. I like using olive oil but it does have a strong taste, so something more neutral could work better for you.
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1 clove minced garlic or about heaping teaspoon of the jarred kind
  • Spices! Salt, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, and oregano. They also make packets of pre-made taco seasoning at the store but it’s a lot less customizable to your preferences.
  • Tortillas (either flour or corn)
  • Whatever taco toppings you typically enjoy (chopped tomato, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, etc)

When you’ve got everything together, follow these steps:

  1. Rinse your lentils in water.
  2. Chop up your onions and garlic.
  3. Get your seasoning ready. Here, I can’t recommend exact amounts to you because it’s all up to preference. I tend to put the most cumin, though, followed by chili powder and garlic powder, with a little less paprika and oregano and the least salt. Note that you might not even need salt if you’re using a high sodium broth. This is up to you. It’s usually a couple teaspoons total that I end up with across all the spices.
  4. Heat up some oil on medium heat (a tablespoon or so) and cook the onion and garlic until it starts to brown and get soft. Note that you’ll want a pretty big pan for this since everything will be getting added together.
  5. Add your lentils and your seasoning mix and stir for about 30-60 seconds to get it all mixed together.
  6. Add your broth and heat it up to boiling. After the mixture has boiled, drop the heat to low and cover. The lentils should finish cooking in close to 30 minutes or a little sooner.
  7. When the lentils are tender, stir in your salsa and you’re ready to go! Serve the lentil mixture in tortillas of your choice, with whatever toppings you like!

3. Asian Chickpea Power Bowls

Chickpeas are another new staple in my diet. Super healthy and really tasty when prepared a lot of different ways. One of my favorite ways to use them recently has been to make power bowls: healthy and hearty whole foods mixed together and topped with a sauce.

My favorite right now is an asian style bowl that I made up. It actually shares a common ingredient with the first recipe on today’s list: the peanut sauce.

These bowls are really quick, tasty, and a great way to boost your energy. Here’s what you need to assemble the bowl:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 can of chickpeas (16 oz)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste
  • About 5-6 handfuls of kale, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic or a heaping teaspoon of the kind from a jar
  • About 1/2 to 1 tsp of soy sauce, based on salt desires
  • Dash of sesame oil (optional)
  • Powdered or grated fresh ginger (optional)

Plus, the ingredients for peanut sauce:

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (try to find the kind with no added sugar and just peanuts/salt if you can)
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce, based on salt desires
  • 1-2 tablespoons of chili garlic sauce (this stuff) depending on spice desires
  • Approx 1 teaspoon of rice wine vinegar
  • Juice of a small lime (or half a large one)
  • Some water for thinning

And here are the steps for assembly:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Open and drain the chickpeas, then give them a quick rinse.
  3. Chop up the sweet potatoes into small chunks (about 1/2 x 1/2 inch or so, but this can be flexible).
  4. Rinse and chop your kale.
  5. Get out a baking sheet and put a piece of aluminum foil on it. Take the chickpeas and sweet potato chunks and put them on the sheet. Try to keep them from mixing with each other.
  6. Pour a little olive oil over the chickpeas and sweet potato and toss to cover. Then add salt, pepper, and garlic powder based on how much potency you want. Honestly, I have never measured this myself and just eyeball it until it looks good. Just be careful not to put a ton of salt. Mix again.
  7. Pop the baking dish into the oven. It should take about 20-30 minutes to be ready, based on how small your sweet potato chunks were.
  8. Mix up your peanut sauce. Combine everything except the water. You can play with the proportions until you get a taste you’re happy with. Then, add water to thin the sauce until it is relatively fluid.
  9. Put a dash of olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. When warm, add your chopped kale and cook down until it’s wilted. Add your soy sauce and stir, then add your garlic. If you have some ginger and sesame oil on hand, I recommend adding a dash of both to the mixture as well. Let it all cook for a minute or two and you’re ready to go.
  10. When the oven stuff is done, pull it out and start plating. I usually keep each ingredient separate in my bowl. 1/3 for chickpeas, 1/3 for sweet potato, 1/3 for kale, then put peanut sauce on top. But if you’re feeling like it, you can just mix it all together, too!

And that’s it! Those are three of my top recipes right now for quick, cheap, and simple meals that ensure you’re getting a balanced diet, but not in exchange for flavor.

If you try any of them, let me know your thoughts and tag me (@audreysathleticadventures) on Instagram with any pictures you share!