7/14/17

Uninfluenced by metrics



Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a significant improvement in my running speed at longer distances. While I haven't done any specific speed work in my training this season, I often find myself finishing a run workout saying "wow, I can't believe I just did that." I am not chasing pace, heart rate or miles but instead, I am defining a successful run workout by execution at this point in my season development.

Seeing there are many ways to guide and improve performance, identifying limiters and addressing weaknesses, I find that chasing metrics brings me great stress as gadgets have a way to rule a workout. Additionally, when a gadget/metric controls a workout, it's easy to chase numbers and to assume that fitness is not "good" when numbers are lower/slower than anticipated.

A workout is simply that. A workout. It doesn't define a season and it doesn't mean that you are destined to have a bad race if you don't hit your expected paces/speeds. I find that many athletes are so heavily focused on numbers that they simply measure workouts by the outcome. A good workout is when you hit your numbers and a bad workout is when you don't hit your numbers.
Similar to the relationship that some athletes have with their bathroom scale, a gadget has the opportunity to run or ruin your day.

There is so much to take care of when you are training, like your nutrition, form and mental strength and that can't be tracked on a monitor on your wrist. I have had complete trust in my training and I knew it was only a matter of time before I would see the hard work of consistent training paying off.

On Thursday morning, a day after I performed a very tough 2.5 hour brick (2 hour bike on the trainer and a 35 minute run on the treadmill with specific intervals for both sports), I had a mid-week long run that kinda scared me. Although my legs were a little tired from the Wed workout, I didn't make assumptions as to how the workout would go but instead, I focused on what I could control - effort, form, nutrition/hydration - and let my body do what it needed to do to execute during my workout.

WU: 20 minute EZ run

MS:
2 x 30 minutes w/ 2.5 min between
30 minutes as: 5 min EZ, 15 min moderate, 10 min strong

~8 min cool down

Like with any workout, I am not trying to chase a pace. I always try to do the best that I can, knowing that some days I am going to be tired, some days I will have low motivation, some days my head will not be in the right place and some days I am going to feel amazingly strong.

For the metric obsessed athlete, remember that your race day performance is the result of consistent training. Use your gadgets wisely and understand that performance improvements happen slowly and you don't "see" improvements on a daily basis. Sometimes you have to go through the bad/slow workouts to experience a breakthrough.

Some workouts won't be strong or fast, some workouts will be skipped or modified but hopefully, you will feel like throughout a season, you are making progress as you prepare for the day that allows you to put forth your absolute best effort.

So long as you don't lose focus and enjoyment in your personal journey, you WILL improve and you one day you WILL meet your performance goals on race day.


7/13/17

A great day starts with breakfast


I love breakfast. 

There's something special about that first real meal of the day that helps to wake up my body and brain. I love starting my day with a happy and filled tummy. Plus, there's no denying that I love breakfast foods. Did someone say pancakes or french toast?? Yummo.  

Although research doesn't clearly demonstrate that eating breakfast has a positive effect on weight maintenance or loss, there are still valid reasons why nutrition experts continue to highlight breakfast as the most important meal of the day. 

Eating is all about personal preference but the timing of your meals may reflect your daily habits. Individuals who tend to skip breakfast are those who typically overeat in the evening or graze throughout the afternoon/evening. Additionally, if you didn't grow up eating breakfast, there's a good chance that as an adult you will not consider breakfast as an important or necessary meal. 


While the debate continues on whether or not breakfast is the most important meal of the day, athletes should appreciate the many benefits of eating an early morning meal as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. 


Your body works best when you give it early morning fuel. 


Low energy, sugary cravings, moodiness, cognitive impairment, sleepiness and overeating, alongside lightheadedness, dizziness and poor concentration may occur when the body runs off little fuel throughout the morning hours. For overall productivity with your body, it's important to feed your body and brain throughout the day and this starts with a well-balanced, breakfast meal. 

In our latest Trimarni Newsletter (wait, what - you don't subscribe to it? Sign up here - it's FREE!), Joey featured a delish Blueberry Protein Pancake Recipe to go along with my article on why a great diet begins with breakfast.

As a sport dietitian, I hear similar reasons for not eating breakfast, such as:
  • I don't feel hungry.
  • I don't have time to cook.
  • I don't have time to eat.
  • I don't like breakfast foods.
  • I am trying to lose weight.
  • When I eat breakfast, I feel hungry all morning.
  • I feel lighter when I don't eat first thing in the morning.

Although athletes may think that these are valid reasons to skip breakfast, I believe that these are excuses because a change in lifestyle requires effort and many athletes are hesitant to change their routine because it requires work.

Most athletes would rather spend their time exercising than preparing (and sometimes eating) meals but when you are very active and expect your body to perform in workouts, skipping breakfast may lead to overeating, digestive issues, trouble sleeping and feeling lethargic throughout the day.
Even if research doesn't show an association with eating breakfast and weight loss, skipping breakfast to save calories is a very unsuccessful approach to weight loss as you may notice overeating/indulging, sugar/carb cravings and low energy levels throughout the day. If anything, a substantial breakfast satisfies and controls appetite, helping you be more productive with your daily
activities. Breakfast options can be quick and consumed on the go and, for the athletes who have yet to appreciate breakfast foods, non-traditional breakfast meals can certainly replace typical morning food staples.

To create a balanced breakfast, aim for the following range of macronutrients:
  • Carbohydrates (~50 -80g)
  • Fat (~15 -20g)
  • Protein (~20 -30g)
Food choices should be fresh, wholesome and naturally produced as you prioritize food with natural ingredients. Combine your breakfast meal with a glass of water to help with digestion.

If you lack creative breakfast ideas, here are a few suggestions:
  • Pita or wrap stuffed with scrambled eggs, veggies, leafy greens, salsa, guacamole and cheese. Serve with orange slices.
  • French toast w/ yogurt, seeds and fruit.
  • Hard shell tacos with beef, tofu or eggs, lettuce, tomato, onion, mushroom, guacamole, salsa, cheese and a dollop of sour cream.
  • Served with fruit on the side.
  • Oatmeal w/ nuts/seeds and berries and a glass of milk or yogurt.
  • Banana or apple with spoonful of nut butter on a slice of toast. Served with yogurt or cottage cheese.
  • Waffles with nut butter or butter, topped with yogurt and fruit and syrup.
  • Rice or potato w/ lean meat and veggies.
  • French bread, pita or wrap w/ marinara sauce + cheese and your choice of protein on top.
  • Cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit, goji berries, cacao nibs, nuts and granola.
  • Grilled tempeh + wrap/pita or bread + slice of cheese, lettuce. Fruit on the side.
  • Yogurt topped with granola, honey, nuts, seeds and fruit.
  • Lettuce wraps filled with lean protein, veggies, cheese and avocado.
  • Served with a side of rice/whole grains.
  • Smoothie made with protein powder, fruit, milk and
  • spinach/kale. Served with bread or waffle and a spoonful of nut butter on top.
  • Homemade muffin with butter on top and hardboiled eggs on the side.
  • Bagel with egg, cheese, lettuce and veggies.
  • Pita bread with hummus, veggies, lettuce and egg or lean meat. Served with fruit.

If you find yourself constantly saying "I know what I should do, but I just don't do it," consider that the food you eat is for fuel but it also benefits your overall health and reduces risk for disease and illness.

7/11/17

Why I never tell my athletes to lose weight



There's not a day that goes by that I don't thank my body for what it allows me to do.
I may be an athlete, but I am also a coach.

As a triathlon coach and Board Certified Sport Dietitian, my job is to help athletes optimize performance for race day. Although many factors contribute to performance improvements, many coaches (and nutrition experts) believe that losing weight will aid in performance improvements.

Unhealthy weight control/loss practices are a serious problem in sport, especially in the two sports that I specialize in - triathlon and running. Too often, athletes are pressured by media, coaches and competitors to change body composition in order to boost performance. If losing weight was a guarantee to performance improvements, than any athlete who has lost weight would find it easy to succeed in sport. But this is far from the truth.

Many athletes are told (or assume) that they would be more successful in a sport if they lost weight or changed body composition. Regardless of whether or not weight loss may contribute to performance improvements, athletes who are asked or told to lose weight or change body composition are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as fasted workouts, skipping meals, replacing higher calorie foods for calorie-free/diet foods, fasting/cleansing/detoxing, using weight loss supplements, diuretics or laxatives and/or overexercising. These methods are not healthy or performance enhancing. Yet athletes feel pressure from coach to "lose weight."

So how do we break this cycle of brainwashing athletes that weight loss = performance improvements.

First off, it starts with the coaches, or those who are directly related to an athlete's ability to improve. Many coaches and experts wrongly place their own attitudes, thoughts, strategies and personal experiences with weight, dieting and body image on their athletes. Understanding that athletes need good role models that promote a positive self-image and healthy dietary and fueling strategies, I strive to be the change that athletes need to boost self-confidence when it comes to body image and performance.

Secondly, weight is a sensitive and personal issue for many athletes. Unfortunately, many coaches and nutrition experts do not realize how words can hurt or stick with an athlete. When a coach suggests to an athlete that weight loss may/will improve performance or if a coach makes comments about weight, the athlete is no longer able to recognize his/her individual strengths, improvements or skills but instead, feels a significant amount of pressure to change the way that he/she looks, often at any cost.

Coaches should consider how an athlete's lifestyle choices, mental and physical health, emotions and individual development can contribute to performance. Assuming that if an athlete weighs less that he/she will become a better athlete is not only wrong but it is on the verge of being unethical. There are so many other ways that an athlete can become a better athlete. We must stop assuming that when an athlete looks differently, he/she will become faster, fitter, stronger or better.

When I work with athletes (coaching or nutrition), I always consider the possible outcomes of my advice. I do this through getting to know my athletes as much as possible. I listen to my athletes to understand where they are at in their individual journey and their current relationship with food and the body. I explore every outlet possible to help an athlete improve performance and to get the most out of their body, without placing the focus on the body. Many times, athletes will come to me with a weight loss goal and without focusing on weight, they unintentionally lose weight because lifestyle habits have changed. While a coach or nutrition expert may mean well, telling an athlete to lose weight/change body composition can do more harm than good when coaches do not take careful consideration of the risks and benefits for each athlete that he/she suggests to lose a few lbs. Additionally, most athletes do not seek out professional guidance and support when starting a weight loss journey so no one is there to watch over an athlete for extreme behaviors, reduce misinformation and to debate against unhealthy dietary practices that can sabotage performance and health.

As a coach and nutrition expert, I take performance very seriously but more so, I take eating disorders and the health of my athletes very seriously. I don't believe in targeting weight as the limiter or best next step toward athletic success. Instead, I focus on the many ways that an athlete can improve performance and sometimes this results in a favorable yet unintentional change body composition, like eating "enough", fueling properly, timing food with workouts, strength training, mental strength, quality sleep, good recovery practices and consistent training. While weight loss may lead to performance improvements, we can't assume that reducing body fat will benefit every athlete. There are no shortage of cases where athletes have experienced a temporary boost in performance in the initial phases of changing body composition but it's no uncommon for these athletes to eventually experience eating-disorder/disordered eating symptoms, overtraining, hormonal issues, menstrual irregularities (female athletes), low bone density, a weakened immune system, chronic injuries and a performance decline (or a sporting career cut short) overtime.

Sports are designed to build self-esteem, boost confidence, promote physical strength and endurance, improve skills and teach life lessons. Being an athlete should not involve great psychological and physical stress, especially as it relates to body image. We have too many athletes spending far too much time trying to weigh less because a coach, trainer or nutrition expert suggested to do so.

To ensure athletic success, I advise coaches, nutrition experts and trainers to stop advising athletes to lose weight and instead, focus on good lifestyle practices to help athletes optimize performance. If you think that your athlete may be taking extreme measures to change body composition in an effort to become a "better" athlete, here are some of the warning signs to watch out for:
  • Eating too little, exercising/training too much
  • Increased focus on weight, body composition, size, appearance
  • Using caffeine or boosters to get through workouts
  • Sudden change in mood
  • Feeling the need to be perfect, persistent feelings of inadequacy
  • Rapid/notable weight loss
  • Significant energy deficit during advanced training
  • Injuries (stress fractures) and overuse injuries
  • Symptoms of overtraining 
  • Hormonal/health issues
Coaches - let's help athletes build a better relationship with their bodies and with food. With proper education, support and guidance, athletes are more likely to improve performance and maintain great enjoyment for the sport for many years to come when they don't feel pressure to look differently.

Athletes - love your amazing body and be sure to thank it daily. Rest it, respect it, nourish it and fuel it. 


7/10/17

Weekend meal prep - A must for endurance athletes


It's been a lot of fun to share Karel's 8th Ironman journey with him in route to IM Lake Placid (well, 9th IM journey if you count his 2015 IM Lake Placid DNF after the bike due to going into the race with a torn plantar fascia). Like all endurance athletes, Karel has had his share of confidence building workouts but now comes the time when the body is tired and every workout can make one question race day readiness. The great thing with Karel is that he is a born racer - he just loves and lives for race day so no matter how flat and tired he feels in this final push before his taper/sharpening (which is all normal), I know his body and mind will know exactly what to do on July 23rd. I can't wait to be on the sidelines with Campy to cheer him on (along with Trimarni athletes Chris, Heidi and Adam and Trimarni nutrition athlete Christine). 

Being an age-group triathlete is tough. There's no denying that we all have a lot to balance when you decide to call yourself an athlete as an adult. Taining, life, sleep, work are always in a tight balance but when the training picks up in peak season, it's critical that nutrition does not get pushed to the side in order to train more. Sadly, many athletes fall victim to the typical scenario of more time with training = less time for meal planning.

Although being tired, exhausted and not having enough time are common (and valid) excuses for not being consistent with meal prep, if you care about your health and athletic development and want to make the most out of your training, it's important to get your nutrition in order by planning ahead. Waiting until you are hungry or trying to make food decisions in the face of exhaustion will not let you make the best decisions. Additionally, waiting too long to eat or not caring about what you eat will neither assist in ideal fueling/refueling. Understanding that the way that you fuel yourself between two workouts dictates how quickly you can recover and adapt to training, your training doesn't end when you finish a workout and wipe the sweat off your face, while cooling off in the AC. As an endurance athlete, nutrition can't be an afterthought as it is part of training.

Although meal prep involves planning and that takes time, you are taking control over your diet when you plan ahead. Considering the food choices that athletes make when they are exhausted, starving, lacking an appetite, tired or even rushed, meal prep makes post-workout eating convenient, accessible, easy and effective. And since most endurance athletes are checking off their longest workouts on the weekend, you will have more time for rest and recovery when you know that your meals are ready for consumption.

While I hope that you are making healthy eating part of your weekly routine, I can't overstress the importance of prepping food for your weekend training so that you can get the most out of your body when you place the most stress on your body. 

Here are some of the foods that I prepped for this past weekend of training. I can't tell you how great it felt knowing that real food was ready for us when we returned home from our hot and exhausting workouts and finished up our recovery drinks. 


Potato and veggie egg casserolePeppers, onions and corn layered on the bottom of a casserole dish, coated with olive oil. Then topped with thinly sliced potatoes and covered with 5 scrambled eggs (seasoned with salt, pepper and mixed with a splash of milk). Baked at 425 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Then topped with cheddar cheese.   


Sliced fruit
Grapes, strawberries, peaches, cherries, watermelon, blueberries.


Refreshing veggie "salad"
Chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and garlic, mixed with chopped mozzarella and dressed with olive oil, salt and lemon vinaigrette. 


Jasmine rice
Seasoned with salt and turmeric 


Sweet potato cookies, banana bread and banana bread muffins
All from Run Fast, Eat Slow cookbook.