Category Archives: Nutrition

Chipotle II? Testing ShopHouse

By Pete Williams

Grilled chicken satay

WASHINGTON -The sleek steel-and-wood architecture is similar. So is the assembly line front counter, the meat raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones, and the gourmet spin on familiar cuisine.

There’s no mention of Chipotle Mexican Grill anywhere at ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, which the Denver-based burrito empire opened here near Dupont Circle in September. But there’s no mistaking the formula.

I’m a huge fan of Chipotle, having eaten there probably close to 1,000 times, almost one outing per each of its 1,200 outlets. I love the burritos, love CEO Steve Ells’ food-with-integrity philosophy, and love how such tasty food served fast can be high-performance health food if you load the burrito bowl properly (no tortilla or sour cream, light cheese, etc.)

That’s why I was  pumped to try ShopHouse, which has a similar build-your-own meal template, and is named for the buildings in Southeast Asia cities where families live above the markets they run on the street level.

At ShopHouse, everything comes in a bowl, a deeper, rounder bowl than at Chipotle. Start by choosing either meat (grilled chicken satay, pork & chicken meatballs, or grilled steak) or tofu over jasmine rise, brown rice, chilled rice noodles, or a salad.

Choose a veggie (broccoli, eggplant & Thai basil, green bean, or spicy charred corn), add a sauce (spicy red curry, green curry, or tamarind vinaigrette), a garnish (green papaya slaw, pickles, herb salad), and finally a topping (crispy garlic, toasted rice, crushed peanuts).

It requires a little more thinking than ordering a burrito at Chipotle, but it’s a pretty streamlined process. Or you can make things easy by taking any of the meats/tofu and having a sandwich.

I went with grilled chicken satay, broccoli, tamarind vinaigrette, pickles, and crispy garlic. The result was something spicier than a typical Chipotle burrito, requiring a drink refill, and something I’m anxious to try again.

It was a bit of a surprise not to find a line at ShopHouse late afternoon as I had an early dinner with my wife and father-in-law before attending a Washington Nationals game. Apparently the place is crushed during lunchtime.

I couldn’t help but think back to 2002, when my Core Performance co-author and fitness mentor Mark Verstegen introduced me to Chipotle in Phoenix when there were fewer than 200 stores. I wish that had inspired me to buy Chipotle stock when it went public in 2006 or in the immediate years thereafter, but if nothing else I gained an appreciation for how fast food can be health food.

ShopHouse interior in DC

Ells likes to say that the success of Chipotle is due not to burritos but because of the restaurant’s philosophies. “It works because of our system: fresh, local, sustainable ingredients, cooked with classic methods in an open kitchen where the customer can see everything, and served in a pleasing environment,” he told Fortune.com recently.

Do people want to eat Asian as often as Mexican? I probably would if there was a ShopHouse here in the Tampa Bay area, though I’d probably eat at Chipotle less. Such cannibalization apparently isn’t a concern. A nearby Chipotle on Dupont Circle hasn’t seen its sales suffer in the nine months since ShopHouse opened.

Unfortunately, ShopHouse expansion will be slow, with the second store not coming until September and also in D.C.

We won’t hold our breath on ShopHouse coming to Florida. Chipotle was 12 years old and had about 500 stores when it finally came to Orlando and Tampa in 2005.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long this time.

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The Father’s Day Workout

By Pete Williams

Pushing through Lake Maury

ALL OVER VIRGINIA – This has only a little to do with endurance sports and nothing to do with Florida. But I spent Father’s Day in Virginia and figured I’d eat, drink, train, – and now write – however I pleased.

I woke up in Newport News, where my cousin and her family live adjacent to the Mariners’ Museum Park, which is 550-acres of manicured trails and woods along Lake Maury. The 5-mile Noland Trail goes up and down hills, along the lake, and is quiet enough that I turned a corner at one point and came face to face with a doe, who remarkably didn’t move.

The trail includes 20 bridges and I decided in the spirit of obstacle race training, to find one obstacle per bridge – bench, picnic table, tree stump – and drop and do a set of 10 pushups and 10 dips. The 5-mile run, with 20 stops, took about 50 minutes.

My cousin and her husband have lived in this section of Newport News for 25 years and in that time it’s become an unlikely college town with the transformation of Christopher Newport from community college to major university. If you’re ever in the area, check out the Mariners’ Museum Park. I only wish I had brought a paddleboard as Lake Maury looked perfect for SUP.

Enjoying Spicy Rivanna at Burnley Vineyards

Next it was on to Richmond and Bill’s Barbecue for my “death row meal,” what I would choose for my last meal on Earth. This is not health food by any means, but training hard entitles you to at least one major cheat meal a week – especially on Father’s Day. Here’s mine:

2 minced pork barbecue sandwiches

1 large fries

1 large limeade (basically 32 ounces of sugar)

1 piece of chocolate pie

The Richmond Flying Squirrels Double-A baseball team was playing across the street and we might have stopped if The Diamond still was home to Triple-A Richmond Braves (RIP), who played there when we lived in Richmond in the late 1970s.

Instead we proceeded on course to Charlottesville, stopping in nearby Barboursville at Burnley Vineyards, our favorite winery. Virginia wine is very underrated. Thomas Jefferson started the U.S. wine industry in Virginia and the Commonwealth probably still would be the leader in U.S. wine production had the vines not been trampled during the Revolutionary War and again in the Civil War. By the time Virginia got caught up midway through the 20th Century, California had taken a commanding lead.

“Good wine,” Jefferson once said, “is a necessity of life for me.”

With a case of Burnley wine in the van, it was on to Jefferson’s University of Virginia, where the plan was to have the second workout of the day at the UVA Aquatic Center, where our sons would have swam laps around me. We arrived in time to see swim coach Mark Bernardino instructing swim campers on the pool deck, but got the open pool schedule mixed up and didn’t get to swim. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

Instead, we wrapped up the day with a picnic on The Lawn as a late June sunset fell over the Rotunda – a perfect end to a perfect Father’s Day.



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The Unlikely Vegetarian

By Pete Williams

I’m 36 hours away from making it through Lent without eating meat and consuming only trace amounts of dairy.

I’m by no means a by-the-book-Catholic, but in recent years I’ve used Lent as a challenge to make lifestyle changes. In 2010 and last year, I went without television. Not one minute. While I went back to watching TV on Easter Sunday both times, I found the experience cut down my television viewing considerably.

For years I’ve wanted to try a vegetarian or even a vegan diet. In January of 2011, I dealt with a kidney stone and even after cutting back on protein intake, tests last fall showed I still was consuming too much animal protein, which can lead to more stones. That’s incentive enough, but I also wanted to improve my performance in endurance sports and feel better overall.

A vegetarian diet can do all of those things and I figured Lent would offer a good 46-day challenge. I would drop meat altogether, but would eat fish and consume the occasional Mix1 protein recovery drink, which contains whey protein, a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. Other than that, no dairy, which wouldn’t be much of a stretch for someone who rarely consumes any. Jack LaLanne, who never consumed dairy and lived to 96, stressed that humans are the only animals to consume dairy after the suckling stage.

One of the salmon salads at Fitlife Foods

My Lenten experiment confirmed what I’ve long suspected. A vegan, vegetarian or “pescetarian” (vegetarian with fish) diet, like any other nutrition plan, is mostly about planning and habits. Most of us eat bad stuff not so much because we like to but because it’s ingrained in our lifestyles. In recent years I’ve cut out bread, pasta, and beer, realizing I consumed that stuff out of habit, not because I loved it. It’s easy to substitute things you prefer, especially when they’re better for you, such as additional veggies and the occasional glass of wine.

I figured the same thing would happen with giving up meat and that proved to be the case. I didn’t miss it at all and found it easy to resist, even last weekend at our neighbors’ annual pig roast. Of course, I had a few key weapons:

Vegan and vegetarian friendly

1. CHIPOTLE: I love eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which makes it easy to justify consuming meat since theirs comes from only farm-raised, grass-fed animals not injected with hormones and antibiotics. I typically get a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, chicken or carnitas (pork), along with mild and corn salsas, a sprinkling of cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. The chicken version comes to 805 calories, including 57 grams of protein and 2,150 mg of sodium. That’s a lot of protein and salt for anyone, especially someone who has had a kidney stone.

Eliminating the chicken and cheese, however, brought the burrito bowl down to 515 calories with just 17 grams of protein and 1,600 mg of sodium. My bill with a cup of water also dropped from nearly $9 to $6.69. That’s an incredible value. People spend more than that at fast food restaurants for 1,000 empty calories. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has said he’s cut down on his meat consumption lately and after eating veggie burrito bowls, I can see how it’s an easy transition to make.

2. FITLIFE FOODS: Fitlife Foods, which has three locations in the Tampa Bay area, provides nutritious, ready-made meals packed full of nutrients. They cater to busy professionals and recreational athletes – company founder David Osterweil is a marathoner – and the nutrient-dense meals chef Andrew Ruga creates are designed for the high-performance athlete and professional.

I had been enjoying Fitlife’s chicken and beef dishes before Lent, but found the large versions of Miso Salmon (650 calories, 47g of protein), Citrus Salmon Salad (360 calories, 21g), and Lemon Pepper Tilapia (430 calories, 57g) made me forget about the meat.

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

The tilapia, which comes with a side of green beans, packs a lot of protein. But since I usually went with one fish meal and one vegan dish a day, I didn’t worry about that.

The rest of my diet stayed intact: breakfast of oatmeal and a smoothie consisting of fruit, almonds, and almond butter; a lunch or dinner of black beans, sliced tomatoes, and lots of asparagus; snacks of Clif or Lara bars, fruit/almond butter, and my cheat treat of anything chocolate.

The results have been dramatic. The weight dropped from 163 to as low as 156.6, a figure I haven’t seen since the late 1980s. (I’m at 158.8 today). I fared well at two obstacle races in the last five weeks and despite getting a late jump on triathlon training for next weekend’s Escape from Fort DeSoto race season kickoff, I’m biking and swimming almost in mid-season form – not like someone who virtually ignored both all winter.

Best of all, the mysterious migraines I had in January and February have disappeared.

Nutrition plans are most effective when you can link them to feeling and performing better, not just looking better.

That’s why I just might make this Lenten experiment a permanent thing.

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Forks Over Knives (and Urologists)

By Pete Williams

Forks Over Knives DVD

I finally got around to watching Forks over Knives, the excellent food documentary released last year that examines the claim that many degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.

Like the movie Food Inc., which visited many of the topics explored by Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Forks Over Knives is something of a video version of The China Study, the 2005 book co-authored by biochemist T. Colin Campbell, who along with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is one of the two main people in the film calling for a plant-based diet and eliminating all animal protein.

Like Food Inc., and the lesser-known but equally effective InGREEDients produced by Tampa filmmaker David Burton, Forks Over Knives makes a compelling argument for getting away from processed foods and animal products, not just to curtail the obesity epidemic but also to prevent diabetes and many cancers.

Filmmaker Lee Fulkerson takes a page from the Morgan Spurlock “SuperSize Me” playbook, exposing his own horrific diet and showing the impressive bloodwork improvements in just a few months on a plant-based diet. Endurance athletes also are well represented. There’s Dr. Esselstyn’s son Rip, a pro triathlete-turned-firefighter who implemented a plant-based diet at his Texas fire station, and Ruth Heidrich, who overcame a grim breast cancer diagnosis with the diet and is still doing triathlons in her 70s.

As with any diet-based book or movie, there are critics. Given the health benefits of fish, some wonder if fish should be lumped in with the evils of meat and dairy. Esselstyn also advocates no nuts, seeds, or olive oil – all plant-based foods widely believed to have health benefits.

I’ll leave that for nutritionists to debate. My only objection to Forks Over Knives is that it might have left some of its best material on the floor.

After an interesting and exhaustive discussion of how animal proteins clog the arteries leading to the heart, the film briefly mentions that it’s the same process that’s inhibiting blood flow to other regions, namely the male hydraulics. Forks Over Knives features several people who discarded their diabetes medications after turning to a plant-based diet. It would have been powerful to hear from a couple of ED sufferers who ditched the little blue pills.

Speaking of urology, the movie is a compelling argument for using a plant-based diet to prevent prostate cancer. As someone who had a high PSA reading last year (false positive as it turned out but still a scary few weeks) I’m all for improving the odds.

But here’s where Forks Over Knives missed a great opportunity. It makes no mention of the most painful byproduct of eating too much animal protein: kidney stones. A year ago, I underwent two surgeries to remove a whopping 1-cm kidney stone.

Doctors do a terrible job analyzing diet, so I was left to figure it out myself. I identified the culprit as protein shakes, namely putting way too much – actually whey too much – protein powder in my post-workout recovery drinks. But after cutting whey protein 90 percent last February, my bloodwork still came back in April and again in October with too much animal protein in the diet.

I’m a high-risk candidate for another stone.

Not to minimize the impact of diabetes and obesity, but Forks Over Knives might have an even more powerful message, at least for men:

Guys, if you want to avoid the Urologist’s Triple Threat of erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, and prostate cancer, a plant-based diet is for you.

I’m in.

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Fitlife Foods: Great Tasting, Great for You

By Pete Williams

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

SAFETY HARBOR – David Osterweil calls the cuisine “indulgently healthy.” With names like Citrus Salmon Salad, Patong Chicken, Havana Pulled Pork, and Ab Tight Tenderloin, it’s clear Fitlife Foods has found the unlikely combination of tasty meals and food that’s actually good for you.

It’s not tofu-and-sprouts health food. Nor is it rich Outback Steakhouse fare, the type Osterweil once oversaw working in business development for the Tampa-based company.

“We take dishes that you might not initially think are great for you and make them healthy by getting creative with the ingredients,” says Osterweil, the founder of Fitlife Foods, which today opened its third location, on the border of Clearwater and Safety Harbor.

Since debuting a year ago in South Tampa and opening a second store recently in Carrollwood, Fitlife Foods has developed an avid following among busy professionals looking to eat healthy. The store offers fresh, pre-made meals in three sizes, produced by a staff headed by Andrew Ruga, who previously worked at the Canyon Ranch Spa in Arizona.

Meals come in three sizes: small (200 to 350 calories for around $6), medium (350-450 for about $8.50) and large (450-500 calories and up for around $10). There are options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with snacks. There’s also a 21-day weight-loss challenge that includes a meeting with a wellness coach who measures each client’s metabolic rate, body mass index, and other variables.

“Regardless of where you are, the idea is to offer people flexibility in their lives and really make it easy for them,” Osterweil says.

One of Fitlife’s more popular items is BBQ Beef with Mac ‘N Cheese. Chefs take carrots, onions, and grains to make the sauce and add a modest amount of cheddar. Salt and butter are used sparingly at Fitlife, added only for things like the “fitFudge brownie,” which is mostly plums.

Osterweil, a married father of two young children and an avid marathon runner, says he came up with the idea for Fitlife Foods after ripping recipes from magazines and never getting around to preparing them.

“You always mean to try them but after four months all you have is a stack of recipes,” Osterweil says. “Life tends to get in the way for most of us. I always wanted to start a company that meshed this interest I had in health and fitness with my passion for great-tasting food.”

Fitlife Foods, with its sleek green-and-black décor, looks like a cross between an upscale take-out restaurant and a modern health club. There are a few tables and microwave ovens for those who wish to eat in, though most grab and go from a well-stocked refrigerated display. There’s a room for wellness consultations and a display of bio sheets for local trainers affiliated with Fitlife Foods.

“I have a passion for what trainers do,” Osterweil says. “Their whole goal is to make people healthier, happy, successful, and more energetic and that’s similar to what our goals are.”

Meals are made at the South Tampa location and delivered daily to the other two stores. Osterweil plans to replicate the hub-and-spoke system in other cities and says he’s received interest from investors throughout the country, including the West Coast.

A Tampa native, Osterweil started with Outback Steakhouse as a waiter in Virginia as he worked on his MBA at America University. Back home, he climbed the Outback corporate ladder from intern to eventually become director of culinary strategy for Carrabba’s Italian Grill.

The newest Fitlife Foods location – on the southeast corner of McMullen-Booth and Enterprise Road, not far from Countryside Mall – has a rich Outback heritage. The second-oldest Bonefish Grill is located at the same intersection, along with the original Carmel Café and Wine Bar, a casual-dining Mediterranean restaurant Outback founder Chris Sullivan opened late in 2010.

“The biggest things I took away from the Outback experience were the notion of taking care of people and also the commitment to quality and having great flavors in food,” Osterweil said. “That was something I took to heart. The one thing that makes us a lot different is the notion of being indulgently healthy. There’s no reason you can’t eat things that are great tasting and great for you.”

Hear our Fitness Buff Show interview with David Osterweil HERE

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Chipotle’s “Super Bowl” Promotion

Chipotle's latest ad

By Pete Williams

Chipotle Mexican Grill is having some fun with the NFL’s aggressive protection of its Super Bowl trademark, promoting a burrito party pack for the “Super Big Internationally Televised Professional Football Bowl Game.”

There it is, the words “Super” and “Bowl” in a promotion around the NFL’s signature event. The Shield goes after anyone who uses “Super Bowl” in advertising, thus the use of “Big Game” and other generic language.

Will the league sue Chipotle or at least send a cease-and-desist letter?

Probably not. The NFL knows that if it targets Chipotle, a wildly-popular and successful national chain based in Tebowville (Denver), it will generate a huge amount of publicity, which only would benefit Chipotle.

Plus, it’s not like Chipotle is some local sports bar owner. It’s an $11 billion company that can fight back.

Not that Chipotle needs the publicity. Since its founding in 1993, Chipotle has spent precious little on marketing and advertising, relying on word of mouth. Its stock is up eightfold since November of 2008 and this morning set another all-time high. It has more than 1,200 stores, including several in Europe, and its new Asian-themed restaurant, Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, has met with rave reviews since opening last year in the nation’s capital. Endurance athletes love Chipotle, which has sponsored a Tour de France team.

The NFL has every right to protect its trademark. The irony, of course, is that “Super” Bowl is a corny term, something Greg Brady might have coined while playing touch football with Peter and Bobby on the family’s backyard AstroTurf.

Pete Rozelle knew this. According to “America’s Game,” the definitive NFL history written by Michael MacCambridge, the former NFL commissioner hated the term “Super Bowl.” The title was invented in 1966 by LaMar Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs owner, after watching his children play with a Super Ball, a hot novelty item of that time.

Rozelle, according to MacCambridge’s book, was a stickler for grammar and thought the word super, like “neat” or “gee-whiz” was a word that lacked sophistication. But before the league could come up with another title for its championship, headline writers, commentators and even players started using “Super Bowl.”

The other irony of Chipotle latching onto the Super Bowl is that it’s a rare instance where the NFL is associated with healthy food. There’s not one NFL sponsor that could be considered healthy food or drink. (Even Gatorade isn’t something that should be consumed by anyone other than hardcore athletes.) It’s difficult if not impossible to find a healthy food option at an NFL venue outside of perhaps the luxury boxes and maybe the club levels. When NFL teams give out freebie T-shirts at games, they distribute a single size, the one that reflects the bodies of most of their customers.

Extra large.

The NFL promotes sedentary, sit-on-the-couch behavior perhaps more than any American business. NFL programming dominates the list of television’s highest-rated shows. It’s not a stretch to say that the NFL is partially responsible for the obesity epidemic.

Heck, the NFL is the only major sports league featuring a significant percentage of obese participants. Broadcasters can talk all day about the athleticism of 340-pound linemen, but there are countless stories of ex-NFL players who struggle with their health because they can’t lose the weight.

Then there’s Chipotle, which features meat and dairy products from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics, along with produce that’s locally sourced and organic wherever possible. Company founder Steve Ells has challenged the food industry to get away from factory farming and processed garbage. The success of Chipotle indicates that there’s a demand for it.

Ells is a fan of the late Steve Jobs, who upended the computer, music, and phone industries. Ells might have a bigger impact if he can achieve his goal of changing the way America eats. Already fast food chains are scrambling to change. So too are fern bar, sit-down restaurants who have seen Chipotle’s fast-casual, all-natural concept erode their business.

As for the NFL, it should embrace Chipotle’s Super Bowl promotion.

Since the lawyers are quiet, we’re guessing The Shield already has.

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FitLife Foods Founder David Osterweil on Fitness Buff

By Pete Williams

Opening in Countryside Jan. 26

Since The Fitness Buff radio show debuted in 2005, we’ve provided some of the earliest media exposure to a number of businesses that now are household names: Perfect Pushup, TRX Suspension Training, the BlendTec Home Total Blender.

Here’s another one likely headed to prominence: FitLife Foods, the Tampa-based company that provides healthy, tasty, meals to go in three sizes. CEO David Osterweil, a former Outback Steakhouse executive, figured there was a market for busy professionals on the go, especially those involved in fitness and endurance sports. Osterweil, a married father of two young children and a marathoner himself, knows his demographic.

FitLife Foods chef Andrew Ruga, who previously worked at the world-famous Canyon Ranch resort in Arizona, prides himself on using alternative ingredients to make dishes healthier. That’s why FitLife’s barbecued beef with macaroni and cheese not only is among the store’s most popular dishes, it’s also one of its healthiest.

We’ll be covering FitLife more this month as it opens its third location and first in Pinellas County (on the southwest corner of McMullen-Booth and Enterprise Road in Safety Harbor/Countryside).

You can listen to our interview with David Osterweil HERE:

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