Essential Sports Nutrition


It's Ironman Canada race week!

I can't believe it's finally race week! Today we leave for Canada and on Sunday, we get to race a bucket-list race in beautiful Whistler, Canada. 

We selected this race venue because of its challenging, yet beautiful course. The weather is predicted to be in the low 50's at the start of the day (race start 6am PST) and it will rise to the low 70's. The 2.4 mile swim is a two loop course in Alta Lake. The water temp should be around 65 degrees and wetsuit legal. The 2-loop bike course features ~8000 feet of elevation gain over 112 miles. It will be a "slow" bike course that will require a lot of strength, tactics, good riding skills, fueling and mental strength. The run course will be just as spectacular as the bike. The 26.2 mile run is a two loop course with a little over 1000 feet of elevation gain. The finish of the 140.6 mile race is in the Olympic Village of Whistler.

I'm thrilled to share the course with 13 of our athletes. We selected this race venue because it offers an Ironman and 70.3 distance on the same day. We will have two athletes racing the full (one first-timer Ironman) and eleven athletes racing the 70.3. I just love racing with our athletes as it's great to see familiar faces on and off the course and to share the entire experience with others.

This Ironman journey has been an interesting one. Our coach (Cait Snow) did an incredible job preparing us for this race. While it felt like a lot of training, every week was carefully designed with our needs in mind. There was a nice mix of frequency and volume with a touch of intensity sprinkled in. Overall, it was a solid build to Ironman Canada. I loved the training/workouts and it was a lot of fun to see what my body could do each day. We had daily communication with our coach and the closer we got to the race, the more she was careful to make sure we were still adapting to training stress.

Karel is bringing great fitness to this race. He was pushed hard by Cait in ways that he didn't know was capable by his body. I'm super excited to see what Karel can do on this race course as I feel he is getting stronger and faster every season.

I have felt stronger than ever before - specifically in swim and bike. Because of my previous running struggles (injuries) in the past, Cait was extremely careful to build me slowly with my running and to design workouts that would help build my confidence and suit my strengths (running off the bike). I was able to put together many months of consistent training, tolerating a high volume of training in swimming, biking and running.

Unfortunately, near the end of our group training camp in late June, I started to experience some left lower back pain on the bike. I contributed it to a lot of twisting to look behind me at our athletes and altering my riding style throughout the camp environment. Karel and I did not do any of our own training throughout our group training camp as it was all about our athletes and making sure they got the most out of their camp experience.

On the last day of camp (June 30th), we were getting ready to head to the lake for our last camp workout (swim and run) and as I was bending over to put on my socks and shoes, I felt a painful tug in my lower back. I had to lay down to relieve the pain. It was something that was a bit familiar to me as I have had issues with my back/hips for as long as I can remember. This reminded me of when I injured myself back in 2007 before my first Ironman World Championship. I was a little worried but the pain subsided, I taped my back/hips with KT tape and we drove to the lake. I was a little tight during the swim but the run felt fine as I ran with our campers.

To play it smart and safe, Cait had me take the next two days really easy to let things calm down. I took a day off on Monday (mental day to recover from camp) and Tues was an easy swim. I felt a little tightness in my back but no pain during the swim.

On Wednesday we did a "test" workout on the bike with some building efforts to see how I responded to different efforts. I felt a bit of tightness in my back but it actually got better as the ride went on. I ran off the bike and all was OK. I actually felt fine running. So on Thursday I was back to normal training and didn't feel concerned about my back anymore - what a relief!

I put together four solid days of training (Thurs-Sun) but come Sunday, near the end of the run, my left side started to feel off. It wasn't painful, just a bit of tugging in my left leg. After I returned home from my 90 minute run (my last long run), my inner thigh and groin started to tighten up. It was really uncomfortable. I did my afternoon swim - which helped to loosen things up - but to make a long story short, I've been dealing with hip/back/upper leg issues since July 7th. To be extra cautious, I haven't really ran since then as I was feeling a tugging and tightness around my hip/back/leg. Again, this is nothing new for me as I have dealt with hip/back issues for all of my triathlon career but have been able to manage it for the past 6 years without any hiccups. Until now....

So here I am, just a few days away from my 15th Ironman in uncertainty. Will I be able to run at all and if so, how much? I am mentally preparing myself that I will not finish this Ironman and I am ok with this.

While this injury has altered my run training over the past 2.5 weeks, Cait made sure that I was maintaining my fitness and focusing on what I CAN do. So instead of running on land, I have been doing water jogging in place of my runs. That means interval runs, brick runs and even a double run - all in deep water. I have been swimming and biking as planned as both cause me no pain or issues and I actually feel better after I swim and bike.

During the first week of this setback, I focused on calming down my leg. So this meant massage and dry needling and exercises to help get my ribs/pelvis back into a good spot. My SI joint likes to give me issues and this time was a nasty one as my pelvis got all out of whack. After things calmed down, my next goal/focus was to walk normally. I was bracing my leg (straight leg) because of the tugging I was feeling in my groin and adductors. My ITB was taking the grunt of this so I needed to relearn how to walk normally again. By the 2nd week, I was walking normally. My last goal was to hop with my left leg. Finally I am at that point. So on the positive, I am walking normally, I don't have any pain, I can hop on one leg and aside from after sitting and sleeping (when I get a little tight), I feel "normal" again. I have tried to run and while it is not painful, it's still not "right" just yet. I am being extra cautious and safe as I am not just thinking about IM Canada but Ironman Kona in a few months. I have resisted "testing" the leg as I don't want to do something silly out of ego or fear and put myself back. I am in a good place now and I don't want to jeopardize my health - especially since I want to be active for a lifetime.

The first few days were tough as I was a bit emotionally and in pain but after a few days, I made myself get into a good mindset to put everything into perspective and to use my mind to help me heal. To help with this, I have been repeating a few mantras to help me get through this setback with a positive mindset. These mantras have provided me perspective and also gratitude and I am still excited to travel to Whistler, start the race and give my best for as long as my body will safely allow me to. If I have to drop out in T2 or in the run, so be it. While I'm sure I'll be a tiny bit sad, I have so much to be happy about by watching our athletes and Karel and traveling to a new race venue.

Here are a few mantras that I have used to help me during this time: 
  • I don't need to run for a lifetime but I do need to walk.
  • I'm an athlete for life - not just one race.  
  • Focus only on today. 
  • Don't spend energy on things that are out of my control. 
  • I can't change the situation but I can change my attitude and how I deal with the situation. 
  • Focus on the small things.
  • There are so many great things in life to be happy about. 
  • I'm thankful for all that I have done with my body this season. 
  • If there's a "good" time for an injury, it's when 99% of the work is done. 
  • I can still swim and bike - my two favorite sports!
  • I am so excited to swim and bike in Canada and tackle this tough sport! 
  • If I can't run on race day, that means I get to watch my athletes and cheer. 
  • Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can't do. 
  • There are worse things in life that can happen to me. 
  • There are worse things in life that deserve my tears. 
  • Injuries heal. 
  • It's just one race. 
  • Believe that you are healing every day. 
  • Complaining and tears don't solve issues. 
  • Invest into therapy/treatment so you don't have to pay for MRI's and more intense treatment. 
  • Be patient and smart. 
  • Quick fixes don't fix issues. 
  • Don't rush the healing process just to meet a race day deadline. 
  • Thank you body. You are still awesome. 

Although race day is still a bit of an unknown, I can assure you that I will not do anything silly. Running in pain is NOT my idea of what it takes to finish an Ironman - or any race. I worked really hard to get to where I am right now with my swim/bike/run fitness and over the past two weeks, I invested a lot to be able to move without pain and I don't want to take steps back - only to delay my return to run training in route to IM Kona. I still plan to share pictures/videos/posts about our Ironman Canada experience on my blog and Facebook page over the next week.

Off to Canada!!


Training in the heat - nutrition tips

Triathletes and endurance athletes are very susceptible to dehydration and even more so, a heat-related injury at this time of the year. Whereas in the cold/cooler months of the year, athletes can get away with haphazard fueling and hydration strategies and poor pacing, now is the time in the year when a poorly planned fueling/hydration regime and pushing too-hard or too-far will negatively affect workouts, adaptations and health.

Let it be known that training in the heat is incredibly stressful for the body. Seeing that training (in any environment) already creates difficulty for the body to adequately digest and absorb nutrients and fluids, you can imagine why so many athletes experience harmful health issues, GI struggles, extreme fatigue, heat stress, dehydration and so many more issues during the summer months when training for an event.

As an example, exercise increases body temperature. The harder and longer you train, the higher your resting temperature. Your body compensates by moving the extra heat to the skin via the blood - it then dissipates into the air through sweat (so long as humidity levels allow for evaporation). But when you exercise, your blood serves another important role - it carries oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Blood is shared between the muscles and the skin. The higher your core temperature, the more blood is used for cooling and less for the working muscles. In other words, your body will always sacrifice muscle function for temperature control. This is why an athlete's body will begin to "shut down" when overheating as this state is life threatening.

Every athlete has his/her own threshold for when the body begins to experience a decline in health and performance as a result of heat stress, dehydration and glycogen depletion.

To keep your body functioning well (in training and on a daily basis), it's extremely important to care for your body with proper fueling and hydration strategies before/during/after workouts and to respect the conditions by pacing appropriately.

Don't be the athlete who......

  • Does not stay well-hydrated on a daily basis (before/after workouts and during the day)
  • Does not bring along fluids/nutrition when running (especially when running off the bike)
  • Is not comfortable drinking while running/riding
  • Rations fluids to avoid stopping (or does not have enough places to refill bottles)
  • Does not have enough hydration bottle cages on the bike (or if they are on, they are not easily accessible)
  • Does not use sport nutrition products properly (not enough or too much carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes)
  • Does not use sport nutrition products or does not plan ahead and relyies only on water (or nothing at all)
  • Feels it's only a  "short" workout - so you don't need to fuel/drink

There are dozens of excuses and reasons why fluid/electrolyte/calorie needs are not being met during training and racing and not only is it holding you back from training consistently and executing well during workouts, it is also extremely damaging to the body - placing you at risk for injury, sickness, burnout and other serious health complications. Remember - you are not just fueling/hydrating for one workout but for the next series of workouts. If you struggle during one workout, it will affect your future workouts.

Common side-effects of dehydration and heat stress:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • loss of focus
  • chills
  • high heart rate that won't drop even when you reduce the effort or stop
  • no appetite post workout
  • excessive sleepiness
  • extreme weakness
  • low blood pressure
  • stop sweating
  • dry mouth
  • dark urine
  • dry skin
  • no/little urination
  • extreme cramping
  • bloating/puffiness
  • excessive thirst/lost of thirst
  • rapid, elevated pulse (despite effort slowing down)
  • muscle spasms (during and post workout)

Are you currently experiencing any of the above?
If yes, your current fueling/hydration and pacing strategy is NOT working for you.

Every human body is different so you must pay very close attention to your body signs/symptoms/signals when it comes to training and racing in endurance events. If you do not make the effort to keep yourself in good with proper fueling and hydration (and pacing), you will be forced to spend a lot of time getting your body healthy again before you start even thinking about training again.

To help you out, here are a few very simple tips to help you adapt during hot-weather workouts

  • Sip frequently in small amounts, don't gulp fluids. Gulping (especially from a straw) causes you to swallow air, which can cause bloating and belching. This also may disturb the function of the stomach and slows down absorption.
  • Be sure to have a sport drink with you for all workouts lasting more than one-hour - this should contain a mixture of electrolytes, carbohydrates and fluids in an appropriate concentration to digest well and to be efficiently absorbed. I suggest a hypo or isotonic solution with ~20-25g carbohydrates per every ~12-16 ounces and at least 250mg of sodium to optimize gastric emptying.
  • Aim for 24-32 ounces of fluid on the bike per hour and at least 10-12 ounce fluid for every 30 minutes while running (this should be in a sport drink - not plain water in the heat!).
  • Aim to sip your bottle on the bike every 10-15 minutes (you need at least 3-4 gulps to ensure that you are getting in around 3-4 ounces of fluid) and 1-2 sips every 5-8 minutes while running. Frequent drinking on a schedule will not only help to delay fatigue and prevent dehydration but will prevent overdrinking on fluids (particularly ice cold water), which often causes a sloshy stomach.
  • While keeping your insides hydrated is critical, consider ways to keep your body cool on the outside. Suggestions include exercising early morning or in the evening and avoiding workouts in the heat of the day (10-5pm). Choosing indoor workouts over outdoor when health may be compromised (extreme heat). Using water/ice to cool yourself while exercising. Wear a cooling towel/cooling sleeves. Use a visor over a hat. Choose shady areas over direct sunlight. Wear sunscreen to prevent burning. Wear protective clothing.
  • Always plan ahead with your bottle refill stops. Be sure to STOP before you really need to stop so you are never rationing your fluids or going without.
  • Be sure you are setting yourself up for good hydration actions. Cages/hydration systems on the bike should be accessible and easy to use in ALL conditions (ex. bumpy roads, rain, technical courses, rain, etc.). Your run courses in training should allow you to refill bottles that you bring with you OR set up bottles on your course. Everything you do in training should be practice for race day.
  • Wear a hydration belt/pack so you can drink what you drink, when you want to drink it. There are many types on the market - find one that works for you and never run outside without it.
  • Do not wait for thirst to kick in during endurance workouts/racing to start drinking. Start drinking/fueling early. An athlete who waits to drink until he/she is thirsty is already behind on fluid requirements and many times, this will cause an athlete to drink an excessive amount of water. This may cause hyponatremia (very serious health condition) or may cause a sloshy stomach/bloating/stomach cramping. When you fall behind on your fluids, you will likely drink too much at once to play catch up (often a hypertonic/concentrated amount from guzzling a lot of drinks at aid stations or stops at gas stations in training).
  • Make your fueling/hydration strategy during workouts as simple as possible. You should not be using several different methods of consuming electrolytes, calories/carbohydrates/sugars and fluids. But ok to use 2-3 different products/flavors to help with taste bud fatigue. Also, DO NOT overconcentrate your flasks/bottles.
  • Pace yourself and be OK with slower paces that will elicit a higher RPE. Even mild dehydration can negatively affect performance and can cause drowsiness, irritability, loss of concentration and headaches - none of which are performance enhancing or healthy. When dehydration worsen, serious issues occur which affect the heart, brain, muscles and organs (ex. kidneys).
  • If you overwork your body, it is not possible to overfuel/hydrate the body to meet your training/racing demands.
  • Be respectful of your body in the heat. If you are feeling any changes with your body that concern you, first slow down. Don't be a hero and push through - stop! Remind yourself that when your body starts to shut down or gives you signals/signs that something is wrong (ex. headache, chills, vision changes, etc.), your body is no longer adapting to training stress but it's trying to protect you. Never get upset at your body for a bad workout or race if it is simply trying to protect you from a serious heat or other-related injury.

There are far too many athletes failing with workouts and experiencing negative health issues due to poor fueling/hydration strategies before/during/after training and improper pacing. Sport nutrition is a complicated area with many misguided tips and suggestions that are not always practical or healthy. If you know someone who can benefit from this blog, please share.


Training for race day success

Training is easy. You feel great when you get your endorphin boost, you can control your environment (or select your terrain), there is no pressure because no one is watching or tracking you and you know that if a workout doesn't go as planned, you always have tomorrow to try again.

On the other hand, race day is stressful! Feeling pressure to perform - especially in an unfamiliar and/or uncontrolled environment - brings anxiety, nerves and expectations. It's easy to compare yourself to other athletes and experience a heightened fear of failure. Never in training do you feel what you feel on race day. Far too many athletes complain that they can train better than they race - finishing a race feeling like they underperformed, relating back to all the amazingly great workouts that they crushed, yet feel defeated as to why they were unable to perform on race day, despite feeling so prepared. 

One of the great challenges for triathletes is translating training into a great race day result. Despite feeling overly confident in training, it's important to master the necessary confidence, physical skills, nutrition readiness and mental strength for race day.

Competing like you train seems like an obvious strategy but a better approach is to train like you want to compete.

If you think about all that you (try to) do on race week/day in order to set yourself up for success, why not put that same focus, energy and attention to detail into training? 
  • Restful sleep
  • Organized and planned diet
  • Good mobility
  • Planning, focus,, oganization and time-management 
  • Relaxation and visualization/meditation
  • Good warm-ups
  • Proper fueling
  • Great daily hydration 
  • Reviewing the course maps
  • Staying in the moment 
  • Rehearsing pacing/strategy/execution
  • Ensuring gear/equipment is in great condition
  • Fine-tuning sport nutrition 
It seems obvious that if you are going to do something on race day, you should repeatedly do it in training - far too often is this not the case. Rushed and busy schedules, poor planning and lack of application causes athletes to lack confidence for race day. 

If you want to perform well on race day (who doesn't?) it is important that you nail the small (yet very important) components in training. 

For example, this means practicing your pre race and race day nutrition many times in training to ensure confidence for race day. The purpose of training is to build physical and mental skills, habits and strategies that will translate into an optimal performance by your body on race day. Sadly, many athlete get really good at performing workouts underfueled and undernourished and expect to put together a fail-proof pre-race and race day fueling and hydration strategy. I think of this like riding a bike - if you are always riding with poor bike handling skills, you can't expect to master bike handling skills on race day, just because it's race day. The same is true for nutrition. If you are putting together a complex, detailed and precise diet and fueling/hydration strategy for the 48 hours before a race and for race day, but you never practice this approach in training (repeatedly), you've been training half prepared but you are expected to compete 100% prepared. Unfortunately, success doesn't happen this way. You must give 100% to your training if you want to compete well on race day.

The more you treat your training decisions like it's race week/race day, the easier you will find it to perform at your highest level when it counts. Simply put, don't do anything drastic on race week/day that you didn't practice in training.