Essential Sports Nutrition



The other day I received an email regarding gluten-free diets and athletes. The emailer wanted to know if there were any performance benefits of a gluten-free diet. Here's my thoughts, which are strictly based on my thoughts and experiences from athletes except for the info regarding celiac disease which is from my Medical Therapy textbook:
As far as the gluten-free diet, most people who are advised to adhere to a gluten-free diet suffer from celiac disease. Celiac disease has a lot of symptoms including diarrhea, anaemia (due to poor absorption of iron, folate and B12), indigestion, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, fatigue, and infertility. When celiac disease athletes suffer from these conditions a gluten free diet can help alleviate the symptoms. However, for the majority of athletes who don't have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet may or may not improve performance.
First off, the symptoms of bloating and stomach distress are common in athletes who consume a lot of sports nutrition products on a daily basis. I'm sure I wouldn't be surprised with the number of athletes out there who think that an adequate mid day snack is a power bar and Gatorade. More so, when intensity increases during training/racing, it is far too common that athletes suffer from a host of GI problems due to overconcentrated sugary drinks sitting undigested in the GI tract, too many calories during training and eating the wrong foods (and too much of the right foods) too close to workouts.
So, in my opinion, if a person cleans up the diet through a specific way of eating (Ex. gluten-free), a lot of "starchy/high sugar" foods will probably eliminated. The quick digesting foods that are easy to eat (and crave) before, during and after training (or anytime during the day) will absolutely cause GI distress. In relation to a gluten-free diet, I can understand how someone who chooses to avoid breads, breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits and pasta will feel better with a gluten-free diet including plain meat, fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes, dairy products, fats and oils. Other grains that are gluten-free are rice, corn/maize, potato, tapioca/arrowroot, sago, soya, lentil/pea, amaranth, lupin, buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa and millet. I must say, however, that "starchy" food can be prepared in a heart healthy way and combined with protein to stabilize blood sugars. Unfortunately, it is in the evening when athletes look back on the day, evaluate the hours/intensity of training for the day and often, the goals for healthy eating and portion controlled eating go out the window. Therefore, gluten-free or not, training does not allow athletes to go overboard with unhealthy food choices (starchy or not) and portion overload. Only a calorie-controlled, balanced diet will provide athletes with the right fuels to fuel workouts. And, if the daily diet is controlled, the better your body will react to the fuels you put it in during training/racing.
Gluten-free can be difficult if you travel or order out, expensive and hard to follow for a lifetime. However, people say the same thing about vegetarianism and I have been meat-free for almost 16 years and I find it quite easy. Sure, it took me around 10 years to learn how to be a healthy vegetarian athlete but I've never looked back since the age of 12.
In order to improve performance (gluten-free or not) I recommend combing all carbs (prioritizing complex carbs, seeking foods with at least 2-3 grams fiber) with low fat/lean protein and healthy fats. I also recommend eating a little protein and/or fiber snack (ex. nuts, cheese, apple slices, lean meat, cottage cheese, edamame, milk) before meals (around 50-80 calories) in order to stabilize the blood sugar before the meal and prevent overeating.
I have worked with a lot of athletes who suffer from GI upset during races and training (unrelated to celiac disease), including bloating, cramping, bonking, etc. In my opinion, these are all side effects of a unbalanced diet, not timing the nutrition with training, working at intensities with the wrong types/quantities of fuels and not recovering properly/fueling properly with training.
I am really looking forward to my upcoming internship (I apply to the Mayo Clinic in Sept, which is a very competitive internship so I will need lots of luck getting in) which is part of the dietetic program. You would think that I would apply for an internship in sports nutrition but I am really excited to learn more about clinical nutrition. Knowing more about diseases and conditions will allow me to be a better sports nutritionist.
As far as a gluten-free diet, it's absolutely your choice. But regardless if you choose a vegetarian, 100% organic, vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free, casein-free, or anything else-free diet, you must pay close attention to the nutrients that you are missing and how to obtain those nutrients in the diet in order to meet your daily and athletic needs.


Asian inspired Tilapia salad

Fish is a must have in the diet of non-vegetarian and non-vegan athletes. I recommend fish after a hard weekend of training or after an intense workout. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish (particularly EPA) have a tremendous positive affect on inflammation. Since you train your body in order to strengthen the heart, omega-3's are also helpful to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, LDLs (bad cholesterol) and BP, while increasing good HDL cholesterol. Since we exercise for heart-health, in addition to performance gains, it is important to eat to keep your muscles, tissues, bones and heart healthy through healthy food choices. The healthy fats in fish can also help prevent stroke and heart attack. Although you may consider yourself healthy for exercising on a daily basis, a clean diet filled with healthy fats is critical if you want to keep your arteries and veins healthy. No point feeling confident in your exercise routine if you eat unhealthy (trans fats, saturated fats) and your insides are not as healthy as your outsides.
In addition to reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers, Omega-3 fatty acids are great for your skin and brain load up on foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
As for vegetarians, depending on why you are a vegetarian and animal-derived foods which you choose to limit, you can take fish oils (which do have the oil of a fish in them) on a daily basis. I am fine with taking fish oils however I do not eat fish. Other options include flax (seeds or oil), tofu, greens, squash and walnuts, which are all all good sources of omega's.
Alpha-linolenic acid is one of two essential fatty acids (the other is linoleic acid, an omega-6). Any time you hear the word "essential" such as essential amino acids or essential fats, the body can't manufacture them on its own so they must be obtained in the diet (from foods you eat or supplements).
Here are foods rich in omega's:
Ground, dried cloves
Cod liver
Ground, dried oregano
Brussel sprouts
Winter squash

Here's a great salad for you to try when you are ready to quickly recover after a hard workout or a long day of stress!

Asian Inspired Tilapia Salad

Tilapia (frozen or fresh)
1/8 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tsp ginger (ground)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 tbsp olive oil

1. If you are using a frozen tilapia, stick it in the fridge for a few hours before using.
2. Mix together the soy sauce, ginger and garlic in a large bowl.
3. Place tilapia in bowl and rub mixture over tilapia. If the garlic doesn't stick on tilapia, you can pour any extra garlic on the tilapia as it is cooking.
4. On a low-heat pan w/ olive oil, lay tilapia on pan. Cook for 2-4 minutes and then flip. Cook for 2-3 minutes and turn off heat. You can also cook in the oven. The tilapia may fall apart as you take it out of the skillet so be careful when removing.

I served this tilapia (for Karel) with a romaine salad filled with fresh carrots, corn, tofu and mushrooms. Top with salsa. Enjoy!


Confidence builder

I needed this weekend. I am exhausted. Glad it is over but enjoyed it all.
Enjoyed the mental obstacles, the sore body, the worries that my injury would come back and the happiness when I finished the workout.
Saturday would be the big day. Therefore, I was mentally prepared...much more than last weekend. As for a week ago, there's just something about a 10am 100 mile bike ride which is not mentally exciting. However, my plan for yesterday was to leave at 6:30am for a 6 hour/110 mile ride.
Karel and I woke up at 5am to get the morning started. Coffee, my oatmeal mix (banana slices, blueberries, honey and raisin) and wasa cracker w/ PB. Not as much as I will do for IM but enough to keep my tummy happy for a few hours. I also had a different plan for my nutrition.
Due to my extreme hunger last week, I decided to go with Sustained Energy from Hammer rather than only heed. I am not a big solid food or gel eater when I work out and I prefer getting my 220-240 calories/hr from sports drinks. I am able to meet both my hydration and calorie needs at the same time and aside from my Hammer endurance amino pills, I don't need to rely on much else during the ride.
Here's what I prepared:
2 bottles : 1 1/2 scoops Sustained Energy + 1/2 scoop Strawberry Heed + 1 scoop base performance aminos
1 bottle: 1 1/2 scoops Heed + 1 scoop amino
5 Hammer endurance aminos (1 for each hour after the first hour)
Here's what I ended up/not taking in:
1 hammer bar (didn't eat)
3 hammer gels (only had 1)
1 gatorade Rain (70 mile mark, split that between 2 bottles of ice at a BP station)
My 3 pre-made bottles
4 out of 5 endurance aminos

My strategy worked really well and I'm so happy. I usually don't like to talk about my own nutrition because nutrition is very individualized. The biggest difference for people is the intensity of training. Secondly, I am also learning that the heat has a MAJOR factor in nutrition. This is my 3rd IM and for the past 2 IM's I've trained in the heat. But with an IM in Nov, IM in Oct and now an IM in Aug, my nutrition strategy has been different for each IM.
Depending on what zone you train/race in, your body will metabolize fuels differently. Sadly, this training can't be done overnight. So, for the future, for all my IM and long distance athletes out there, if you want to be able to train/race fast at a lower heart rate you must incorporate intervals, tempo and aerobic sessions in your schedule and teach your body how to efficiently use fat for fuel. In the end, your body will not rely on a constant intake of calories, which don't always absorb properly when you are trying to push your body to the max. The best training/racing scenario is to train your body to not need a lot of calories, thus teaching your body to use fat for fuel, rather than stored glycogen (digested carbs)
I would never suggest taking in more than 280-300 calories an hour because the body will have a hard time digesting and absorbing those calories to sustain your intensity. Your better off racing in a slightly anaerobic/aerobic zone (say around 85%) and taking in around 240-260 calories/hr rather than trying to push at 90% and trying to take in 300 calories/hr and having those calories sit in your stomach, undigested. Well, I can talk about this forever since this is my area of expertise so my take home message is start low and find your lowest calorie intake to sustain your energy output. You are better off knowing how little you need, rather than thinking you need a lot. Once you feel like you could probably do a bit more, then start adding 30-40 calories per hour to your intake. I suggest starting at 180 calories/hr for females and 220 calories/hr for males.

My workout started at 6:30 with 1-campy mile. I always love running with Campy and now that I can run again, I try to incorporate a mile with campy as often as possible.
After the run, I put my bike in the car and drove 1 mile up the road to the Trek store. I did this so that I didn't disturb Campy after my bike and before my brick run but luckily, Karel didn't go into work and he took care of my little one as I spent all morning outside.
I started my ride at 7 and it was a great feeling knowing that I didn't have to rush home to anything. I am still thinking like a student-athlete and I still feel like I always have something to do, but with a few nutrition consultations, IM nutrition plans and articles to write, my life is great right now. Anything to not have to study for an exam!
To sum up the ride, it was great. I felt awesome and I didn't want it to end. I didn't have any bad moments, no cramps, no fatigue issues and no mental situations that I couldn't overcome.
My workout included 3 x 20 miles descending (5 mile recovery) and I was able to do just that. I tried to focus on my power but I still have trouble keeping up my power with any type of tail wind. I was able to bring up my HR each interval so I knew I was working hard, regardless if my power showed it. I was happy that I averaged 19-19.2mph for all of the intervals and the first and third interval had the best power. The last interval (around mile 70, after my gas station fuel stop) was tough because I saw a guy on A1A in the distance and my competitive side came over and I just wanted to pass him. When I finally passed him, he drafted off me for a while,, which was fine.
The beginning of my ride I stayed in Nocatee so I could see Karel on his bike. I saw Karel and Jeff (and a few others) braking away from a group ride with at least 40 people. They looked so fast and Karel and Jeff were just destroying the group. I was inspired and I kept on pushing.
The next part of my ride was just beautiful. I rode along A1A with the ocean to my left for 25 miles. Just amazing. I had extreme side wind on the way home but I stayed in my zone and didn't fight the wind.
I had no stomach pains which was great and the sustained energy did the trick. I didn't really like the gatorade but I am getting my stomach prepared for it on race day. It's like I want to keep guzzling it and before I know it, my stomach is filled with undigested sugars just sitting in my stomach. I guess the key is to try to limit yourself to just a few sips so you don't end up with a bloated stomach.
The aminos were sooooo helpful. The BCAA's (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are metabolized in the muscles so essentially they are used for fuel during training. Most of all, the BCAA's help the brain during endurance exercise. Often, athletes get tired during endurance exercise and aside from fatigue a feeling of sleepiness or extreme tiredness occurs because of tryptophan (think turkey at thanksgiving) entering the brain. Well, the BCAA's will prevent tryptophan from rising and thus, as you supplement with BCAA's (branch chain amino acids, which decrease during endurance exercise) you will be able to stay more alert and focused during training.
As I neared the end of my ride, I realized that I was going to be over my 110 mile ride. I wasn't ready to see 112 miles yet so I purposely stopped at 111.78 miles. I'm saving 112 for my special day in 3 weeks.
After the ride it was time for a run. 1pm! Not only was it super hot at 1pm but the whole ride was super hot. I've been training in this heat for months and although it is getting easier, it is hot, hot, hot out there!
The run was great!! Almost effortless. I love it when that happens! My first run off the bike in 2 weeks and I did it after a 112 mile ride. I ran 3 miles and I was able to average 8:24min/mile for the 25 min run. It was a great feeling.
I was SO hot starting the run that I only used water in my fuel belt. I poured that water all over me and tried to hydrate every .5 mile with just a quick sip. After the ride I went into the Trek store (disgusting looking and smelly, I'm sure) and just drank from the water fountain until I cooled off. Afterwards, I dumped water all over my head when I walked back outside to my car. 1:40pm I was heading home to greet Karel.
We exchanged training stories and he made me pancakes!!!
Not just normal pancakes, super-sized pancakes for my super-sized workouts. YUM!!! Peaches and raisins inside. After my shower, protein + milk, recovery ice shorts and 1/2 hammer bar, I was ready to eat breakfast at 2:30pm. I also scrambled up some eggs (3 whites, 1 whole egg) w/ my pancakes and had a side of cottage cheese w/ fruit a bit after the pancake.

After an hour or so of resting (Campy and Smudla helped me with that)

Karel and I went to the grocery for some toppings for our pizza. It was soooo yummy!
We got a vegetable medley pizza which looked like this out of the box

And here's what I did with it

As for this morning. I did 18 miles. YAY! Libby (my good friend and physical therapist/miracle worker) has me on an aggressive rehab program for my severe case of piriformis syndrome which I've been dealing with for the past 4 weeks. After the first week of no running, my first long run back was 10 miles. Last weekend was 15 and this weekend was 18. I did the first mile with Campy and the last 17 all alone.
It was so hot outside, even though I started at 7am. It was a tough run, my legs were trashed and every step I was hoping that it wouldn't be my last step. Sure, if I was racing IMKY this morning I would be in my zone and I would be pushing through any type of discomfort but with 3 weeks to go, I am still walking on glass. I stopped several times during my run just to stop, sip on my heed and then keep on running. I didn't need to stretch or walk and if I had streets full of spectators I know I could keep on going through the soreness.
Here's the splits..I just tried to stay consistent. It was really hard with my lack of run training and I thought about going home several times. But, each mile I was thanking the "IM" gods for giving me a body and for allowing me to be an endurance athlete.
1 campy mile -10 min.
1 - 8:45
2 - 8:40
3 - 8:43
4 - 8:38
5- 8:30
6 - 8:43
7 - 8:52
8 - 8:37
9 - 8:32
10 - 8:48
11 - 8:43
12 - 8:44
13 - 8:52
14 - 8:53
15 - 8:36
16 - 8:45
average: 8:46

After the run, the ice bath was calling my name and on went the compression socks after I warmed up.

What a great confidence builder. I really needed this weekend.
Tomorrow morning: 6am recovery swim.
10am - MASSAGE!!!