Apr. 20. 2016
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

I’ve been getting a lot of request from you guys to share more about fitness and my workout tips through Snapchat (p.s. I love watching your snaps that you send!), comments, and emails. I’m training for my first half marathon at the end of this month, and I thought it would be great timing to share with you 10 things that keep me motivated, how to maximize your workout from nutrition and self care, and my secret tips that have kept me working out since high school. Read more to learn how to make the most out of your time in the gym!

Don’t “just do it”, maximize it.

No. 01


This kind of goes without saying, right? BUT many people actually overlook the role nutrition plays in their workouts, what results they can achieve, how they feel during their workouts, and recovery. With  years of experience and intensity, I consider my level of training as advanced or recreational athlete, so I fuel my body to reflect that. I get it – so many of you aren’t on this level nor want to be and that’s totally okay! What matters most is meeting your needs where you are. For example, I have several clients who are just starting their first ever workout routine and program and are starting slow – maybe 2 days a week doing an activity they truly love that gets their heart rate up. Some of my other clients are ultra marathon runners or recreational athletes themselves, and their needs are much different. Regardless of what your workout routine looks like, everyone can benefit from incorporating foods that get the most out of your workout including:

  • turmeric (fights inflammation)
  • tart cherry (fights inflammation and reduced muscle soreness)
  • cabbage (high in glutamine which helps recovery)
  • protein as a whole (from plant-based or ethical high quality animal proteins)
  • healthful fats like coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, etc.
  • spirulina (high in amino acids and beta-carotene)s
  • seaweeds (high in iodine which supports our thyroids and hormones)
  • sea salt (helps replenish electrolytes especially if you sweat a lot!)
  • zinc in pumpkin seeds or animal sources of protein
  • selenium rich brazil nuts (powerful antioxidant, thyroid and metabolism support)
  • tons of fibrous vegetables and fruits!

If you have specific sports or body composition goals, you’ll need a detailed program and plan to follow. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I love making programs to help meet your specific goals. Feel free to email me, or sign up today and start 1-1 coaching. Want more pre-post workout food options? Download the Mind-Body Workout Bundle here. 

Recipes to try with these foods: Turmeric Milk, Spirulina Energy Globes, Tart Cherry Chia Pudding, Chocolate Brazil Nut Milk, Stripped Green Smoothie (easy way to sneak in 4-5 servings of vegetables), Avocado Boats with Sesame Cabbage, and the Cinnamon Tahini Protein Smoothie.

No. 02

Lift Weights

If you’re not lifting weights already…what are you waiting for? Let me start by answering a question I get all the time — no, lifting weights doesn’t make you bulky. I’ve been weight lifting in some form or another since high school and it’s left me feeling strong, fit, and proud of pushing myself to grow and strengthen my muscles for a healthy body in the future (posture and balance included). Lifting weights stimulates your lean body mass (i.e. muscle) and strengthens, tightens, tones, and enhances your musculature. Having more lean body mass (versus more fat mass) provides us with the strength needed carry out our daily tasks, supports our core and spine, supports hormonal and bone health, AND allows our bodies to burn more calories and burn fat even while sitting. A tip that I share with my clients all the time: using the scale is just 1 tool of many to track your progress with your workouts and body composition. It really comes down to measuring your lean body mass vs. fat mass and how that’s changing. The best way to track your progress is to get a body fat monitor/tester (stick with 1 and be consistent with the measurements as these aren’t always 100% accurate, but will show you a directional trend). Remember you guys, muscle weighs more than fat, so if you see the scale increase but your waist is whittling down, then who cares about a number on the scale?! You’re changing your body for the better, and that’s pretty amazing and inspiring.

No. 03


Being mindful not only impacts your overall health and wellbeing, especially from a stress standpoint, but also helps you connect with your workouts more. The mind-body connection that’s fostered when working out is incredible, it’s a playground for you to practice honing in on this life skill and technique that makes you more present in other areas of your life while helping you dig deeper during your workouts. Really think about the muscle groups that you’re targeting during your exercise, pay attention to aches and pains, respect those physical feelings you’re experiencing during a workout, and know when to push your limits and when to honor and respect those limits.

My philosophy: if you’re already taking the first step of waking up early or scheduling a workout during your day, why not maximize and make that time the most efficient as possible – why waste!? Get in, get out, be present.

No. 04


I can’t tell you how much this matters, and let me frame this by saying consistency isn’t the same as frequency. If you’re consistent at going to the gym 3x a week, then you’ve reached rockstar status! If you go to the gym 5 days a week for 1 week and then don’t for another 3 weeks and on and off again, that’s obviously not consistent. Yes, our muscles like change, but they also need a routine to truly see strength gains and progress in your workouts. Ask yourself, “What will keep me consistently working out on a weekly basis? What does that look like for me?” Try to make your workout an “appointment” on your calendar that you can’t miss. Consistency breeds habits, and habits breed a lifestyle. Consistency is key. Truly.

No. 05


Let me preface this by saying you don’t need to go out and buy a new workout wardrobe, but maybe it’s time to rethink what clothing to wear depending on your workout. Your workout clothing should make you feel comfortable, confident, and like you can conquer your time at the gym without distractions. This sounds funny as I’m writing it out, but I have different outfits and pieces of clothing depending on what workout I’m doing. For example, if I’m running (which I’m doing a lot of lately training for a half-marathon in April!), then I need tight long leggings, running shoes, a tight top, and a mid/low ponytail. I can’t stand loose clothing flowing off of me while running sprints and high ponytails that whip back in my face! On the other hand, if I’m doing barre3, yoga, stretching or even weight lifting, I don’t mind looser tops and bottoms that give me a little room to move around. Next time you approach your fitness wardrobe, think about what pieces fit and feel comfortable on YOUR body. Added bonus if you love wearing something cute that motivates you to get in the mood for working out. My go to stretching/yoga top is the Kale Made Me Do It t-shirt, which you can order here.

No. 06

Geek out!

I’m all about tracking of all kinds when it comes to making changes, especially changes in body composition, strength, stamina, and overall fitness levels. Start out by tracking your progress during each workout in a notebook, on your phone, or other journal you have handy. I make sections in a little notebook based on the season, since I change my workouts every 8-12 weeks. I monitor my strength, speed, distance, etc. for whatever task I’m doing. For example, take bicep curls. I’ll track the starting weight in the set that I used, the ending weight where I fatigued, and how many reps I completed in great form. These are a couple points to get you started, but track what’s important to you! If you’re running for speed, track average pace, or the time it took you to run x number of miles.

No. 07


I truly don’t know how people can workout without music, but props to you if you’re one of those people! I NEED music blaring in my headphones to keep me motivated, to give me an extra push, and to dance around or stretch to in between my sets and rests. If you’re looking for inspirational and motivational tunes, check out my monthly music playlists here.

No. 08


Just like creating a morning routine is uber important and sets your day up for success, make the time to create a routine for your workouts and stick to it! Because I’ve been creating my own workouts for years, I cycle my workouts week to week and then do an overhaul every 8-12 weeks. I prefer to workout in a very planned and regimented way but you don’t have to! Just stick to one workout routine that you can do for three months solid, and then entertain the idea of switching it up. Always keep it fun and keep your body guessing.

No. 09


Maximizing your workout doesn’t have to take place in a gym! It can mean that you switch up the environment you’re in. Maybe that’s changing a gym location, trying a new class 1x a week, working out at home, or taking your workout outside to a park or even your yard, neighborhood, etc. What and who we surround ourselves with during our workouts can have a positive or negative impact depending on how you look at it. For example, going to the gym with your chatty friend who dreads working out and will DO anything to slow you down might not be the best gym buddy for your needs. But your friend who challenges you and keeps you accountable might be a better partner, or if you’re great at keeping yourself on track solo, then do that.

No. 10


One of my clients who’s been with me for years now (you know who you are!), never took a rest day during her intense workout schedule until I encouraged/demanded her to add 1 day a week where she completely recovered, slept in, did light stretching, and let her body completely rest. She thanks me now and still says “I can’t believe I functioned with no rest days — what was I doing to myself?!” Not only that, but she’s seen improvements in her recovery time on other workout days, notices physical results faster, and feels more energetic. It’s imperative to incorporate rest into your workout routine to maximize. You must refuel not just with nutrition, but with sleep and rest to give your muscles the time they need to rebuild and strengthen for your next go!


A couple things I personally use with my training include: BCAA’s, glutamine, turmeric, magnesium, epsom salt bath, infrared saunafoam roller

Make the most out of your workouts.

Nutrition is key to making your workouts count and to see results. Work with a registered dietitian to figure out your sports nutrition needs. I’m taking a small group of new clients this season only and love speaking about sports nutrition, as it’s one of my personal passions. Let’s chat about your goals! Sign up here for your 1-1 nutrition session with me.

xx Mckel

Photography @kelseycherry