Essential Sports Nutrition


20 Lessons learned from cancer

Whether you have been given a life-altering diagnosis or you were/are a caretaker, friend, family member or significant other affected by a disease/illness, it can be difficult to find gratitude in such a painful situation. Looking for the good in such a sad scenario can feel nearly impossible.

Everytime I hear of the passing of an individual with cancer, I am taken back to my dad's 10-month battle with a rare cancer that metastasized to his spine. Even though it's been over 5 years, I still struggle every day and wish he was still with me. My dad didn't like to talk about his cancer. I respected his decision to keep his cancer diagnosis silent but it was also very difficult for me to not let others know that he was suffering.  Others have choosen to be more open and vocal about a current health situation and find positivity in such a challenging and difficult scenario.

There's no denying that there's a great level of frustration, anger, worry, sadness and fear when given/hearing about a life-threatening or fatal disease. But with these normal emotions, there can also be gratitude.

For myself, after my dad passed away from cancer, I started to look at life differently. I realized that life was constantly teaching me lessons and I needed to listen. I realized more than ever before that every day of life is a gift. You can't choose to not get cancer (or any other type of disease/illness) but you can choose how you will live each day of your life.

Here are some of the lessons I've learned from cancer:
  1. Don't let life pass you by. 
  2. Don't wait for the right time to start/do something. 
  3. Travel and see the world. 
  4. Don't spend money, time and/or energy on insignificant things that are not truly important to you. 
  5. Focus your energy on your priorities. 
  6. Learn to say no. 
  7. Don't do things out of guilt or to please others. 
  8. Let go of what you can't control. 
  9. Enjoy the present moment. 
  10. Connect with people you love. Let others know that you appreciate them. 
  11. Let go of worry and what if. 
  12. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself. Ditch people who suck the joy out of you. 
  13. Be your gratest cheerleader. Feed yourself positive words. 
  14. Look for the good in every situation. 
  15. Don't judge, compare or make assumptions. You never know what someone else is going through. 
  16. Never take something for granted. 
  17. Always fight for what you want. Never give up. 
  18. Indulge yourself. Give into something extravegant every now and then. 
  19. Be kind and compassionate. 
  20. No matter what you face, don't let it define you. Stay courageous and strong. 


Is processed food good for you?

In our latest weekly newsletter that arrives to your inbox every Wednesday morning at 7am EST (it's FREE and you can sign up here), I talked about the evil words that are rarely spoken about in a "clean eating" diet..... processed food. 

When you think of processed food, potato chips, cereals and snack foods (such as Cheez-Its and animal crackers) may come to mind. Processing may sound like a scary term but not all processed foods are not necesarily bad.

For certain foods to be edibe and digestable, they are changed, semi-prepared, frozen, fermented or packaged. You may be surprised to learn that most foods are processed - in some way - before you eat them. Interestingly, these changes can make a food equally or more nutritious than it once was before processing. Therefore, when viewing a processed food as "nutritious," consider the level of processing the food undergoes before it becomes a purchasable food source.

While you are encouraged to shop the perimeters of the grocery store to fill your shopping cart with wholesome foods, check out some of my guidelines to follow when shopping for boxed, bagged, fresh or frozen processed foods.

And speaking of processed food, can Ramen noodles fit into a wholesome, healthy and nutritious diet? You betcha! Check out this delicious recipe that Joey created.

Kale, Broccoli, and Sesame Noodle Salad
By Joey Mock, RD, LD, CLT

This Kale, Broccoli, and Sesame Noodle Salad is bursting with flavor. The veggies and homemade dressing fancy up those inexpensive packages of ramen wheat noodles (just be sure to throw away the soup base flavor packets as they are packed with sodium and not needed in this recipe). Serve this salad at room temperature when just prepared or make ahead, refrigerate, and serve chilled (the leftovers are even more flavorful!). Add your favorite protein and you have a main meal.
1 large head of broccoli, cut into medium sized florets with some stalk attached
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1½ teaspoons sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon plus ½ cup red wine vinegar, divided
2-3 Tablespoons plus ½ cup canola oil, divided
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional to taste 
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional to taste
3 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced, plus more for serving if desired
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut into 1-inch matchsticks
4 cups fresh curly kale (about a bunch) leaves only, stemmed and chopped (or Tuscan kale leaves)
2 3-ounce packages dried ramen noodles (discard flavor packets)
Torn mint leaves and toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Toss broccoli with 1 clove minced garlic, sweet chili sauce, 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar, and 2-3 Tablespoons oil (until broccoli is lightly coated) on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and starting to brown, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk scallions, ginger, 1 clove minced garlic, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, remaining ½ cup red wine vinegar, and ½ cup oil in a large bowl. Add kale; toss to coat. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, about 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside at room temperature. 
  3. Cook ramen noodles according to package directions (discarding flavor packets and skipping that step). Drain noodles and rinse under cold water. Add noodles and broccoli to kale and toss to coat. 
  4. Divide amongst bowls and top with mint, sesame seeds, and additional scallions if desired.
Adapted from: bon appetit recipe.


Lessons learned through injury

I went through a rollercoaster of emotions this summer with my back/hip/glute injury. Although this injury was nothing new or unfamiliar to me, it had been a good six years since I've had a run-related setback. Thankfully, my stubborn past self taught me a lot about how to best mentally and physically overcome an injury. While I felt like I handled it the best I could from learning from my past and being optimistic, there were certainly some moments when I wanted to give up on myself and count myself out of my two Ironman events.

Just to backtrack, 3 weeks before Ironman Canada I felt some lower back soreness on my left side on the 3rd day of our endurance training camp. I contributed to a lot of twisting while riding my tri bike to look at the other campers. The next morning, I felt stabbing pain in my lower back after bending over to put on my socks. My training was modified over the next 6 days and I felt like I had escaped a possible injury but a week after I experienced the excruciating lower back pain, I finished my long run and within an hour I had really bad groin pain. Oddly, I was able to hop side to side and jump backward with one leg but I couldn't bound forward or jump without pain. I took safe but extreme measures with dry needling (which I've done in the past), PT and ART but come Ironman Canada race day, I had three weeks of no luck taking any running steps forward without pain. I maintaining my run fitness (and soundness of mind) through water jogging but Ironman Canada was a big unknown. Since swim and bike were painfree, I approached the race with the mindset that I wouldn't finish the race but give the run a go (my first run in 3 weeks) and see how I felt within 2 miles. If I was in pain, I would call it a day. Somehow endorphins (and the positive energy of Karel and my athletes) let me cover 26.2 miles to finish my 15th Ironman. Thank you body!

And even more, I am incredibly thankful that I didn't do any harm to my body. I was able to walk, sightsee and hike and still ride my bike and swim without pain in the weeks following the race. 

For the next few weeks, I was scared to run. With IM Kona on the horizon, I didn't want to experience the pain and torture of my very first Kona (back in 2007) when I had a very similar injury to my ride side. I went into that race with 30 days of no running and then ran the entire marathon - refusing to walk. 

I was then on crutches for a week or two after as I couldn't bear weight on my right leg. It was so painful and something I never ever want to repeat again in my life. No race is worth my health.

Fast forward back to 2019 and I was literally afraid to run. Who knew if I was able to run but I just didn't want to take any chances. So for the next 6 weeks after IM Canada, I stuck to swim bike and water jogging. I actually liked the deep water jogging because I had intervals to follow and well, I love being in the water. I embraced it and just kept focused on what I can do (instead of wallowing in pity that I couldn't run). Sure, it was hard to see others run when I couldn't but I reminded myself constantly that we all have our own battles to fight. This was mine and I was going to come out a winner - eventually.

For the next three weeks, I was able to run on the treadmill but it wasn't comfortable. I was still experiencing some catching in my leg and then pain was subsidding. I was still worried but also had trust in my body. I spent a lot of time, energy and money on PT, working with a movement specialist and ART. While time always heals, I committed to these extra services because I was committed to getting myself back to running. Although I felt like I had a timeline for IM Kona, I made sure to stay patient. I knew I would go into the race undertrained in the run but I didn't let that affect my mental state. I put my energy into what I could control and remained positive and grateful for my body. Unlike my first IM Kona - when I felt like it was going to be the only time I would ever compete in the race - I knew that this Kona was a celebration and not an indicator of my self-worth or future sucessses as a triathlete.

Four weeks before IM Kona, I had what I would call my first real week of pain free running in 13 weeks. Of course, I should count the marathon I did at Ironman Canada :) 

It wasn't until two weeks before IM Kona that I did my first run outside - in the energy lab. And interestingly, I felt confident before the run even started. I had waited long enough and my body just told me in was time to run outside. I kept the runs short with a spice of intensity for neuromuscular firing and included walk breaks to reset my form. I was grateful and thankful to be running pain free. That is, until I started to experience some niggles in my right hip/knee/back. Jeez - can't catch a break!

Although I was able to put together a super strong swim and bike and survive the run without pain, it was a very long summer of minimal running and I was ready to put this season behind me. It's been a tough one. 

But like the past, life goes on. Injuries heal. Goals change. And we get to turn the pages in our book of life to write a new chapter. 

Here I am with my first week of my 2020 season of training under my belt and a full week of pain free, happy running. Funny how life works. Nearly 5 months of struggling to run and two Ironmans completed and I take my off-season and in two weeks, I feel like I never took time off from running. I am running outside and on the treadmill and running happy. Me and running have a rocky relationship but I am not giving up on it. 

No athlete enjoys being injured but injuries are part of the journey. While some athletes get lucky and can escape an athletic career without a setback, the downside is that these athletes never get to the learn the valuable lessons that can be gained throughout an injury.

Here are some of my lessons learned through injury.
  • Gratitude
  • Perseverance
  • Patience
  • Confidence
  • Don't look for a quick fix
  • Trust 
  • Respect the body
  • Mindset is everything
  • It takes a team
  • A setback is a learning opportunity 
  • Positive thinking
  • Tough situations don't break you, they make you 
  • Never let sport become your sole self-identity 
  • Be grateful for what you have while you have it
  • Never take a workout for granted.
  • Never take your health for granted 
  • Don't stop living your best life
  • Stay happy in all circumstances
  • Never give up