Essential Sports Nutrition



There are a few HOT and HUMID long distance races in the next few months and a very important race for myself (and many of my athletes who I have helped with nutrition) in 9 days (OH MY!).
In addition to fluids and electrolytes during training/racing, acclimating to the hot and humid temperatures is another way to assure yourself of reaching the finish line at your next long distance event.
If you've been training in the heat and humidity, it’s likely that you will lose a lot of sweat during your training sessions. However, seeing that it is August, if you've trained in the heat, you are probably used to the heat. If you are from an area of dry or cool temperatures in the summer or prefer to train before the sun comes up, it is likely that you are not adjusted to the rising temps which easily reach 85% humidity and 84-degrees by 8am here in Florida (this was the temp and humidity on Thurs when I was working out).
Extreme heat may cause athletes to lose up to 2-3 L/hr of sweat, whereas the majority of athletes lose around one liter (34 ounces) per hour of exercise. Because the body only requires around 20-25 ounces of fluid (lighter athletes around 18-24 ounces and heavier athletes around 24-28 ounces) per hour of exercise to fulfill hydration requirements under most conditions, it's vital that you focus on your fluid intake during each hour of long distance exercise.
The problem I find with many athletes is that they feel acclimated to the heat when really, their body has not physiologically adjusted to the heat. Because athletes are nervous about racing in abnormally hot and humid temps, there is an effort to do anything and everything to prepare for race day. Wearing heavy clothes, taking walks at 12pm in heavy clothes, exercising in sweat pants and a jacket and training indoors with no fans and no AC...I've heard it all.
I did a Pubmed search of research articles of training indoors in hot temperatures and wearing heavy clothing to prepare for the heat and I didn't find anything that I could relate to endurance athletes and preparing for the heat. Having said that, there may be research articles out there but I can't locate them.
Although exercising indoors in hot temps and wearing thick clothing will absolutely make you sweat, this is not the best way to prepare for the heat. Your blood is working overtime to support working muscles and cool the body and this will make you feel super hot, as if you are preparing yourself for the heat.
Exercising in thick or bulky clothing may alter your running gait or cycling form, thus causing you to possibly injure yourself. In addition to exercising in a hot room, wearing thick clothing while exercising may increase core body temperature too quickly and compromise your body by not being able to cool yourself adequately.

Relative humidity is the most importance factor that affects sweating and cooling. Therefore, even if you feel hot exercising (indoors, middle of the day, with clothing) you may be getting use to the heat but you are not teaching your body to cool itself.

In terms of humid races, humidity causes sweat to evaporate more slowly than on less-humid days. Therefore, it is important to train your body to efficiently evaporate sweat for cooling purposes.

Through heat acclimatization, the body learns to remove heat more efficiently by repeatedly teaching the body to adapt to hot conditions. In a non-acclimatized athlete, sweating will occur later, thus the acclimatized athlete will demonstrate a higher quantity and rate of sweating, resulting in a cooler body temperature and a more comfortable racing experience. Considering that blood must cool the body as it facilitates working muscles, an acclimatized athlete will have more blood for working muscles and less blood needed to cool the skin. Due to the efficiency of sweating during exercise, acclimatization causes the heart rate to rise more slowly due to an increase in stroke volume. Lastly, sweat becomes more diluted and there is less sodium loss from the kidneys.

An acclimatized athlete can work harder in extreme conditions, with less heat-related consequences, compared to a non-acclimatized athlete. Having said this, do not think that if you trained in hot and humid temperatures that you can race at a higher intensity than normal during your long distance race. If you haven't trained your body to sustain 85% max HR for a 3+ hour race, acclimated or not, your body will not be able to clear lactate as quick as it is produced. Therefore, you must always be aware of how you are going to train your body to prepare for a race. As you acclimate and train for a race, find an acceptable HR that you can sustain to metabolize a mix of carbs and fats for a long period of time. If your lactate threshold is low, it doesn't matter how comfortable you are in the heat. High intensity HR's to attempt to sustain high intensity efforts will quickly deplete stored glycogen thus causing you to rely on a heavy intake of calories to sustain that high intensity. This is a worse scenario than just feeling hot at your race because a glycogen depleted, bloated athlete generally drinks too much fluid, takes in way too many calories, pops too many pills during the race (electrolytes) which may = DNF during an IM distance race.
If possible, give yourself around 5-14 continuous days to acclimate to heat, immediately prior to race day, if you are expected to race in hotter conditions than normal. Give yourself a mix of interval, tempo, long distance and recovery workouts so that you learn your RPE (Ratings of perceived exertion), HR or pace depending on the temperatures. The acclimatization generally requires 2-4 hours of daily heat exposure but some research studies have shown less volume. Even if you can only give yourself 4 days to prepare for the heat when you arrive to the race venue, plan your training accordingly (ex. workout at 2-3pm instead of 6am) and give yourself a proper warm-up so that you don't exhaust yourself during your taper period.

Very important!!!!!
Acclimatization to the heat does not reduce your risk for dehydration. Pre-exercise dehydration as well as dehydration during exercise impairs physiologic functions and decreases sweating rates and blood flow in both the acclimated and non-acclimated athlete. Though the body can become more efficient at cooling the body, acclimatization does not train your body to need fewer fluids than recommended. Furthermore, drinking a lot of fluids (more than recommended) does not ensure that your body will stay cool during your training session or race. Pay attention to your fluid intake when training in the heat. Fluid requirements: 20-28 ounces of fluid per hour of exercise, drinking 5-6 ounces every 10-15 minutes. Also, use water to cool the body during training/racing.

If you can't acclimate to heat/humidity:
1) I read a research study showing that 4 x 30-45 min. high intensity sessions during a 10 day period (with 1-2 days rest in between) at 30 degrees C, 27% relative humidity did induce acclimatization (Sunderland, 2008). If you can't exercise for long periods of time (especially when you are tapering before a race) on the weeks leading up to a race, when it is hot or humid during the day, exercising for a short period of time in the heat may help prepare your body for the heat.
2) To prepare yourself for a humid and hot-weather race, dress in appropriate clothing that promotes evaporation from the skin. This is not limited to racing: dress appropriately during training. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing will allow more air to pass over the body for cooling. Also, avoid dark clothing which absorbs light rays and promotes radiant. By wearing clothes well-suited for hot and humid temperatures, you will encourage evaporation from the skin more easily, in order to prevent extreme fluid loss.
3) As sweat soaks your clothes and drenches your body, avoid drying off your skin with a towel or changing clothes (ex. IM race). Because your body’s primary method of cooling is through evaporation, dry clothing will hinder heat exchange compared to wet clothing.
4) Sweat loss is not calorie loss. Do not feel proud of yourself if you lost weight after a hot and humid run. Additionally, do not feel like water loss provides you with an opportunity to eat more than normal because you technically "lost weight" during a 90 minute workout and you want to refuel for upcoming workouts. I am sure everyone has heard to drink 16 ounces for every 1 lb. lost during exercise in hot temperatures. However, this doesn't start and stop right after the workout. You should be drinking water regularly during the day since it may feel uncomfortable to drink an excessive amount of water immediately after exercise. More so, recognize if you are thirsty when a food craving hits. Generally, most athletes eat when they are in need of fluids so always drink before you eat (8-12 ounces before and with meals) and carry around a water bottle (20-24 ounces) of cold water to sip on in between meals.


Salt and the endurance athlete

Skip the popcorn, chex mix, salted nuts and pretzels and put down the salt shaker. Ironman athletes often feel overwhelmed by nutrition before the big day. I don't think Ironman athletes have trouble eating carbs so the second biggest focus in the diet is Sodium. Due to an overwhelming amount of nutrition-related articles, athletes are lead to believe that they need to eat everything salty before the race and add extra salt to all food.
In hot weather, the more fluid lost through sweating, the more likely you are to deplete sodium and electrolyte stores. Sodium is one of many electrolytes used during endurance exercise, in addition to potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and manganese.
Table salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. According to the RDA (recommended daily allowance), the recommended amount of sodium per day is around 2,400 mg, however it is also recommended that all individuals consume no more than 1,500-2000 mg/day. Although sodium will provide a balanced quantity of electrolytes to prevent cramping and help maintain fluid balance, a high sodium (ex. salty foods) or high electrolyte diet (ex. through salt tabs or excessive electrolyte pills) does not ensure that your body will use those electrolytes.
Unfortunately, many athletes suffer from stomach cramps and leg cramps, in addition to white-streaks on clothing during exercise due to an excessive amount of sodium or electrolytes before and during the race, in addition to a high concentration of sugary sport drinks during the race which sit in the stomach undigested.
I have a feeling that most Ironman athletes consume way too much of sodium and carbohydrate-rich foods on the days (or week) leading up to the race and may neglect other vital foods such as lean/low fat protein-rich foods, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables.
Although sodium is essential in small quantities, in order to maintain fluid balance and control the contraction and relaxation of muscles, athletes exercising in hot conditions do not need to go overboard through salting every eatable food in site. This could be a total body disturbance and possible DNF waiting to happen. By eating a balanced diet of real food with natural sources of sodium, an athlete can obtain the recommended amount of sodium needed to maintain body homeostasis.
Here's my idea of the typical foods consumed by athletes before an Ironman (or long distance race)...
*Because most of these foods are packaged and processed, I am assuming that the servings I am giving are low compared to what many athletes would "snack" on in the days leading up to the race
-Salting food at each meal or eating salt packets - Approximately 1 tsp. of table salt contains 1,500 mg of sodium.
-1 cup Chex Mix Bold - 780 mg sodium
-3 oz. Dry Roasted Mixed Nuts - 558 mg sodium (I do recommend nuts prior to a race w/ snacks and meals in order to keep the blood sugar stable and to provide healthy fats. Be sure to portion control. 3 oz nuts = 504 calories)
-4 oz. Rold Gold Pretzel sticks - 1840 mg sodium (not sure who can only eat 4 oz. pretzels?)
-12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) Panera Vegetarian Soup - 1290 mg (I included soup here and below. I do think soup is a great way to get sodium just be aware when you order out and check online nutrition guides before ordering)
-2 slices Large pizza hut cheese pizza - 1500 mg sodium (I enjoy pizza two days before a race. Because most athletes will stop after 5-6 pieces of pizza, be aware of calories and sodium. 1 slice large thin crust veggie lovers has 510 mg sodium and 170 calories whereas 1 slice cheese pizza has 300 calories. Because most athletes will choose restaurant pizza over "fast food" pizza, be aware of chef's going overboard on the salt shaker in the kitchen)
-1 tablespoon mustard - 480 mg sodium
-Subway 6" turkey breast sandwich - 1020 mg sodium (check restaurants and fast food online nutrition guides before you travel so you can plan ahead before you order)
Total: 6988 mg sodium
(I didn't add any mg's for salting food).

My idea of some healthy sodium-rich foods (some are great sources of protein):
1/2 cup fat free cottage cheese - 450 mg sodium
1 cup vegetarian soup - 815 mg sodium
1/4 cup feta cheese - 418 mg sodium
2 ounces Boar's head roasted turkey - 350 mg sodium
1 cup skim milk - 127 mg sodium
2 slices rye bread - 422 mg sodium
Total: 2582.5 mg sodium
In addition to 2-3 hammer endurolytes on the 3-4 days leading up to the race.

The biggest problem I find with athletes is the feeling of bloating and having to drink too much water in the days leading up the race. The best feeling you can have before the race is knowing that your body is healthy in the inside. Drinking water (not sugary sport drinks) is recommended several times during the day (20-24 ounces between meals) and 12-16 ounces with meals. Because sports nutrition during a race is just as important as what you put in your body before the race, keep the diet balanced before an Ironman and choose to eat healthy, portioned controlled meals and healthy snacks every 2-3 hours between meals. Always combine protein w/ carbohydrates to keep the blood sugar balanced during the day. Don't neglect those fruits and veggies which include many necessary vitamins and minerals which will be used on race day.
I have a feeling the foods I listed in the typical Ironman pre-race diet are common in most American's diet. And I only listed a few foods which I consider easy to consume and contain sodium. I didn't list foods that are super bad for the heart but you will do a great thing for your body if you prioritize foods that have very few ingredients (ex. fruits and veggies) so always read nutrition facts and labels.
Even if you aren't doing an Ironman, are only training for a sprint triathlon or consider yourself a fitness food labels to reduce and control the sodium in your diet.

Mexican Couscous

How about a 5 minute dish?
Couscous is the easiest grain to prepare and super healthy for the inner athlete in all of us.
You can certainly buy the seasoned, boxed versions of couscous but I prefer to buy the original/plain 31.7 oz container so I can make many different options of couscous depending on my taste buds for the day.
Couscous is a staple food in North Africa and the Middle East and you can often find it in Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine. Couscous is relatively inexpensive made from wheat. The only ingredient in plain couscous is Unenriched Durum Semolina, which is a type of wheat. There are other varieties of couscous which include barley, corn and ground corn meal as the primary ingredient. Couscous is very versatile and it can be prepared in a sweet dish (ex. with cranberries and apples), a vegetarian dish (ex. with peppers, tofu and mushrooms) or in a meat dish (ex. with chicken or salmon).
Here's the nutritional breakdown of 1/4 cup couscous:
Calories: 150
Total carbs: 31g
Dietary fiber: 2g
Sugars: 1g
Protein: 5g
There is no fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium or cholesterol. However, when prepared with oil or butter (as recommended in most cooking directions/recipes) you will add more calories and fat to your meal.
How to make plain, unseasoned couscous:
*I listed the nutrition facts for 1/4 cup but in order to prepare more than one serving, I will give directions for 1 cup.
1 cup couscous
1 cup water
Stove top:
1) Bring water to a boil
2) Add couscous, stir quickly.
3) Remove from heat and cover.
4) Let stand for 4-5 minutes and fluff with a fork before serving.
1) Microwave water in microwave-safe dish on high for 1-2 minutes or until water is boiling.
2) Remove from microwave (be careful of hot water) and add couscous.
3) Stir quickly and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes and fluff with fork before serving.

Here's the recipe I made the other night. Super quick, easy, healthy and affordable!

Mexican Couscous
1 cup Couscous
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped jalapenos (I buy them in a jar but you can use fresh)
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 cup corn
2-3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 can chili tomatoes (you can also use fresh tomatoes or another canned tomato brand)
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped leafy greens
Your choice of protein: Chicken or veggie burger
Optional: Salsa and cheese
Optional: 1 flat out wrap toasted into 4ths, spread w/ hummus

1. Prepare couscous and set aside.
2. On a medium heat skillet w/ olive oil, cook veggies (onions, jalapenos, mushrooms, garlic and corn). If corn is frozen, cook corn first for a few minutes and then add other ingredients. Stir every few minutes until golden brown.
3. As veggies are cooking, prepare your protein.
4. I cut a slit in the veggie burger package and microwaved for 1 minute and 30 sec. For the chicken, I cooked 2 boneless chicken tenderloins w/ pepper, oregano, italian seasoning and cayenne and the other 2 tenderloins with a flake cereal (you can use special K or total) which I crumbled the flakes and rubbed on chicken w/ 1 tsp. of olive oil and pepper. I then cooked the chicken on a small medium skillet w/ 1/2 tbsp. olive oil for a few minutes. I covered when they were finished cooking.
5. When veggies are almost golden brown, add tomatoes and give a stir so all veggies are mixed well. I like to give all my canned foods a good rinse before using. Don't worry about losing flavor. Pour the tomatoes in a strainer and give a good rinse for 5-10 sec. before adding to the pan.
6. After 1-2 minutes of cooking with tomatoes, turn off heat and cover.
7. Time to prepare the plate!
-Place handful leafy greens in shallow bowl.
-Place 1/4 cup couscous on veggies.
-Place 1/4 cup veggie mixture on greens.
-Top with protein (chicken strips or cut veggie burger into pieces)
-Optional: Toast 1/4ths of flat-out wrap as "pita" chips and spread with 1/2 tbsp hummus. 1-2 pieces of wrap per person. Top with 2 tbsp salsa and less than 1/8cup taco or mexican shredded cheese.
*This meal should take less than 15 minutes to make. To make this meal for on-the-go, prepare all ingredients ahead of time and use a little of all ingredients in the above recipe inside the flat-out wrap for a healthy wrap for lunch. Couscous can be eaten cold or warmed for 10-15 seconds.

Vegetarian version:



Sunny side up, two bean and rice salad

I wasn't sure what to make so I searched the fridge and pantry and well, put everything together.
This meal is super easy to prepare and affordable. Even with the rice, you can make this meal in less than 20 minutes and that includes prep! With the protein from the beans and egg and carbs from the rice, this is one balanced and healthy meal to keep your muscles strong and to help you properly recover after workouts.
There are so many health benefits in the ingredients in this salad but I'd like to give some attention to beans.

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - excellent source of molybdenum and a good source of fiber, manganese, folic acid, protein, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium.
1/2 cup - 130 calories, 2g fat, .5g sat fat, 22g carb, 9g fiber, 6g protein.

Beans - cholesterol lowering, excellent source of molybdenum, loaded with antioxidants, may help protect against cancer, decrease risk of heart disease, stabilizer for blood sugar (beneficial for diabetics) and packed with protein. Depending on the type of bean, some beans have more fiber and protein than others.
Serving size: 1 cup
Lima beans - 10g protein, 13g fiber
Navy beans - 15.8g protein, 10g fiber
Pinto beans - 15.8g protein, 7g fiber
Lima beans - 11.58g protein, 9g fiber
Black beans - 15.24g protein, 15g fiber
Great northern beans - 14.74g protein, 12.4g fiber
Kidney beans - 15.35g protein, 11.3g fiber

Sunny side up, two bean and rice salad

1 box rice (opt for low sodium or use 1/2 seasoning package to reduce sodium)
Per person:
1 egg
1 large carrot (sliced)
Tofu - 1/4 package cut into cubes
Corn - 1/2 cup
1/4 cup pinto beans
1/4 cup chickpeas
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 cups dark leafy greens

1. Cook rice on stove or microwave.
2. On a non-stick skillet w/ olive oil, heat to medium heat and cook corn, tofu, beans and chickpeas. Stir every few minutes for even cooking.
3. As veggies are cooking, chop carrots (you may cook them with the beans if you prefer cooked carrots) and your choice of dark greens.
4. Turn off down heat to low when veggies are golden brown. Season with pepper or your choice of seasoning. Do not season with salt, there is plenty of sodium in the rice.
5. Pour veggies into large bowl or plate.
6. Cook 1 egg sunny side up. When egg is finished cooking, turn off eat.
7. Layer your salad! On greens, pour veggie mixture and add 1/2 cup rice. Top with egg.
8. Top salad with spray dressing, salsa or 1/8 cup shredded cheese or 1 slice cheese on warm egg.