Essential Sports Nutrition


Training the body

On Sun evening I received an email from Karel...
First sentence, 11 weeks until IMWI
Next part of the email included dates for 3 weeks of build and 1 week recovery.
The next part, 3 more weeks of build, 1 week recovery.
Week 9 - last hard week
Week 10 and 11 - taper

So far, so good. Feeling great, no signs of "past injury" and feeling strong. Actually, stronger than ever before.

Wouldn't you agree with me that the human body is amazing. I have always loved the body and the amazing things that it allows us to do on a daily basis but for much of my life, I really took for granted how sensitive the body is to every-day stress and daily habits.
Growing up, I was always active with swim team. When I went to college at Transylvania University in my hometown of Lexington, KY. I majored in Exercise Science. I was president of the Exercise Science club, I was a personal trainer at the YMCA (in the summer) and taught spin classes and personal trained YMCA members. I also taught a few core classes at my school and on the side, I was a student and a competitive college swimmer. I ran cross country my senior year of college because I wanted to try something new and see what it was like to "warm-up a mile". Running a mile to warm-up, always seemed crazy to me.
When I graduated, I moved to Florida (Davie) for graduate school at FAU. My Master program took 1 1/2 years and from Sept 2004 until Dec 2005 I was one stressed out grad for my first marathon and amazed by this thing on TV called the Ironman.
Throughout graduate school, I fell even more in love with the Physiology of the body during Exercise. I had always wanted to be a Strength and Conditioning Coach for professional sport teams but as I neared the end of my intense graduate program, I realized that my passion lied in nutrition as it relates to exercise. Although I need to brush up on my information from my cardio, respiratory and exercise physiology courses, I still find myself using all of the information in my classes to my own training, as well as to my athletes. Although it took a good number of years, I realized that the body loves to be trained and WILL adapt but the process is not quick and can not be rushed.

I find it outstanding that the human body can allow us to run 26.2 miles or even cover 140.3 miles. I find it crazy that the heart can beat so fast for a mile or even more, for 5 hours. It's amazing that the body can lift heavy weight and still get stronger and I love it that the body works harder and becomes more efficient with the right nutrition (and timing of nutrition).
On the flip side, it is sad but still not surprising that if we don't take care of our body or listen to our body, it can rebel. We have all witness or hear of someone losing his/her life in a blink of an eye, without any warning. We know that overweight people can be extremely healthy and lean people can be extremely weak and unhealthy. We have seen people reach personal goals without any training and we have all experienced the up and downs of training for an event and risking injury or fatigue as well as reaching personal goals.

Finding the balance of being a competitive athlete and lover-of-exercise has not been easy. Right now, I feel as if I am in a good place. Still loving the effects of pushing my body but at the same time, not overdoing it with junk-miles or wasteless training. I have remained focused on stretching, strength training and rest/recovery as well as having a purpose for every training session...even if that means playing in the water or taking Campy for an hour walk.

The body can adapt to change, but we must be patient. However, teaching the body to adapt can be a fun process. Whether you are trying to lose weight to reach a realistic and maintainable weight goal, wanting to participate in a sprint or long distance event or wanting to meet a personal racing goal, the process of training of the body is slow but if you do it correctly, you will see progress and the rewards will be well-received.

Weekly training re-cap:
Mon - OFF. I had to do a drug screening for Hospice (as part of my community rotation which starts on the week of the 12th!!!) so I did it first thing in the morning because I knew the day was going to be a busy one. After an hour wait and a 5 sec test, I was done. Karel told me that he was going to the Y for light plyo's, core and a swim so I told him I would join him for a swim in the outdoor YMCA pool. What a relaxing swim. I planned to do nothing but I can't pass an opportunity to swim an easy 1000. Karel swam his first ever 500!

Tues - Under/Over intervals...OUCH!
Well, what started to be a great ride turned into a LONG ride. I must have moved my valve as I was pumping up my tubulars because around mile 8 I noticed that my tire was getting a little low in air. My good friend Katrine lived a mile from where I was at so I called her up and she saved the day! Her hubby was home and let me use their bike pump (didn't want to waste a CO2) so that I could get home. After an hour ride and around 18 miles, I decided to finish my workout on the trainer.
Main set under/over's:
2x's: 4 min below LT watts 170, 1 min above LT watts (I held around 160-165 watts below and around 180-198 above..the above HURT!!!). My focus is on a higher cadence so I was really aware of my cadence for both the under and over.
10 min easy spin
Repeat 2 more times!!!
I didn't get the same power on the last round as the first, but I was giving my best effort and felt really great with my workout. Tired and pooped but that was one quality 2-hr bike ride (despite the first 18 miles and having a leaking tire).
I decided to pass on the post-ride run because my 2 hr workout took about 3 hrs because of my tire and getting myself ready to bike inside.

50 min (5 min walk warm-up, then 10 min jog)
6.3 mile tempo run:
Main set 5x's: 2 min @ 7.8 mph, 1 min @ 8.2mph, 2 min @ 7.5 (all 1% incline)

Swim 4100 yrds:
Main set 2x's (500 pace, 5 x 100's hard)
8 x 50's on 50 sec hard

Strength: light weights, core, hip and back work

20 min Power Test on bike
1 hr warm-up w/ a few pick-ups
20 min all out (173 watts, 23 mph....around 4 watts higher than my last test 3 months ago!!!)
warm-down (w/ Karel after he finished his set)
Total: 2 hrs, 38 miles

Post-bike run:
Felt amazing!!! 3.3 miles, 24 min

LOTS of stretching and a yummy hemp/whey fruit smoothie after this workout

Yesterday I told Karel that I felt amazing and to NOT let me run, no matter how great I felt, today. Mission accomplished.
30 min strength w/ Karel at the Y (at my parents) w/ emphasis on upper body and core/back.
2000 yrd swim (Karel went to run some errands) - 2 x 1000's (swim, pull by 1000) just zoning out and loving outdoor swimming in the rain.


Snack before you eat and control overeating

I hope you enjoy my latest article from the FREE Iron Girl newsletter!

Snack before you eat and control overeating
Looking to improve your nutrition or change unhealthy eating habits? Try snacking before a meal, which can decrease hunger and help control caloric intake throughout the day. Individuals who plan balanced snacks between meals are likely to avoid the symptoms of low blood sugar, are better able to fuel and recover from exercise and appear more alert and productive at work, compared to those who go long hours without eating.

Eating a 50- to 80-calorie snack before your next meal will set you up for a portion, calorie and craving-controlled meal. An optimal snack should include healthy fats, low-fat or lean protein and whole grains, in addition to fibrous fruits and veggies. As you snack on these nourishing foods, you'll find yourself eating and ordering more consciously and will feel better about what you put into your body.

Most, if not all, active individuals will quickly feel the positive effects of consuming a healthy snack, rich in slow-digesting carbs and low-fat protein, two to three hours before a meal. If you are a person who overeats at meals, struggles with meal planning and preparation or often experiences the symptoms of fluctuating blood sugar levels, you may additionally benefit from a small nutrient-rich snack 15- to 30-minutes before meal time.

Try these pre-meal snacks to curb your cravings and keep your stomach happy before meal time:

Snack #1 for crunchy cravings:
1/2 tbsp Hummus w/ small handful of baby carrots
½ tbsp peanut butter w/ 1-2 large Celery sticks

Snack #2 for salty cravings:
1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese w/ 1 tbsp sliced almonds
½ ounce trail mix w/ small apple

Snack #3 for savory cravings:
1 tbsp dark chocolate chips w/ small pear
3 ounces plain 0% Greek yogurt w/ small handful of fresh blueberries


Vegetarian "Meat" and Potato salad

As you know, my background is in exercise physiology (Master degree in Exercise Physiology, Bachelor degree in Exercise Science/minor in psychology) so I feel really confident when it comes to coaching and understanding the adaptations that must be made in an effort to increase speed and power for optimal performance. Individual improvements are very relative. Because we all have different heart rates for different speeds, which causes us to metabolize fuels differently, it would be silly to say that a 9 min miler does not work as hard as a 7 min miler, just because the "faster" athlete finishes quicker than the "slower" athlete. Training must be individualized in an effort to experience performance gains and in an effort to avoid burnout, injury and unnecessary fatigue.
Unlike any other event out there, except for the decathlon, triathletes do not just train for one sport. If you are a triathlete, or are considering the "triathlete" lifestyle, you realize that you swim, you bike and then you run. You train your body to be able to bike after you swim and run after you bike and you hope that on race day, all your training comes together.

Isn't it amazing what we put our bodies through.....just for a t-shirt and a finisher medal.

In my opinion, triathlons are a great sport. They teach you so much about yourself. Not only do you become physically strong but you teach yourself to be mentally tough. However, for the majority of us and the people you train with, it is likely that you aren't getting paid to race/participate in a triathlon.
I’m sure we would all love it if we received back our registration fee after we crossed the finish line but at our level, we aren’t racing for money and triathlons aren't paying the bills.

But, we all know we need to exercise for health benefits and weight control and for whatever reason, we picked the triathlon lifestyle to help us stay healthy. Triathlons are a great lifestyle but they don’t need to be your life. It's likely that you have a job, a family, a husband/wife, close family and friends and furry little ones (or slimy ones) that need just as much attention and focus as your training routine.

As I have mentioned in several previous blog posts, triathlon training (or any exercise routine) begins with a balanced diet. If your daily diet is filled with foods that limit performance, such as simple sugars, processed foods, calorie-dense (as opposed to nutrient dense) foods or salty or fatty foods OR have habits such as not eating breakfast, overeating, undereating, not fueling properly after training or going long hours without eating, there is no perfect training plan to help you improve in your sport. Furthermore, when it comes to race day, without proper nutrition on a daily basis, there is not "ideal" racing nutrition plan to help you have a great race day experience.
Triathlon training starts with your daily diet and making your health your first priority. Because many people struggle with a balance of training and the rest of life, do not feel overwhelmed when trying to change heart-unhealthy habits to more heart-healthy habits. Just like with training adaptations, healthy eating does not happen over night, especially if you want to create habits that you can stick with. Taking a little time each day to focus on your strengths and weakness's in your daily diet, which will support your healthy, active and quality-filled life, will allow you to find what works best for you, depending on your training volume and intensity.

To help fuel your workouts and your lifestyle, I strongly encourage a more plant-based diet, rich in fruit, veggies and balanced with quality protein, low fat dairy, fiber-rich grains and healthy unsaturated fats. Do not view foods as good or bad but rather performance limiting or performance enhancing. Certainly there are foods you should emphasize in your diet and de-emphasize so if the daily diet is under control you are going to find it much easier to stay consistent with your training/exercise routine and not feel guilty, restricted or obsessed when it comes to healthy eating.

I hope you enjoy my latest creation. Why would anyone ever think that vegetarian diet isn't filling or satisfying and doesn't support the lifestyle of an endurance/active triathlete? This meal deserves a big YUM!

Vegetarian "Meat" and Potato salad
(serves 2)
1 small Idaho potato
1/2 container firm tofu (cubed)
1-2 tbsp Corn Starch
1 large steak tomato
1/4 cup purple onion (sliced)
1 large clove garlic (chopped)
1/8-1/4 cup jalapenos (chopped)
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
Seasonings: curry powder, cracked pepper, cayenne
Large handful spinach
2 eggs

1. On a non-stick pan on medium heat, cook garlic in 1/2 tsp olive oil until garlic turns slightly brown. Remove from pan.
2. On a plate, spread out cubed tofu and gently rub w/ corn starch to coat at least 1-2 sides of tofu cubes.
3. Cook tofu in 1 tsp olive oil and add seasonings.
4. When tofu is slightly golden brown add garlic and toss. After 1 minute, remove from pan.
5. While tofu is cooking, microwave washed potato for 3-4 min. or until soft on the outside and cooked in the inside. Slice potato into cubes.
6. Cook potato in remaining olive oil until potato turns golden brown. Add tofu and toss. Remove from pan.
7. Cook egg in pan (sunny-side up).
8. Starting with spinach, place a handful of spinach in shallow bowl and top w/ sliced tomato and onion. Add potato and tofu and top w/ egg.


Iron Girl Atlanta Race Report

I remember all too well what it feels like to be a newbie.
Considering that my first three triathlons (sprint, olympic and olympic) were on a Giant Hybrid bike (which I thought was the coolest bike EVER at the time) I was 100% newbie for my first year of calling myself a "triathlete". I think my swimming background allowed me to "succeed" in the sport as a newbie but looking back, WOW- I was such a horrible biker and so-not-worthy to even call myself a cyclist.

That's ok - it didn't really matter to me if I sucked at cycling or running off the bike because I just loved the people at triathlons, the excitment, the finish line, the t-shirt and medal and the post-race soreness that lasted for at least a week. I just loved the experience and the lifestyle of swim-bike-run and never considered myself to be a die-hard competitive triathlete...that is, until I met Karel.

Karel always told me that I was having too much fun at triathlons because I was always smiling when I crossed the finish line. Well, I don't think there is anything wrong with smiling but perhaps me not breathing too hard when I crossed line was an indication that I was totally enjoying the experience and not truly giving it my best effort. Sure, I was hurting during the races but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle for a sprint or olympic distance.

6 years have passed since my first triathlon and I find myself getting more nervous than ever before most of my races. For some reason, the only race I don't get nervous for is the Ironman. Perhaps it is the year of anticipation and dedication that allows the nerves to be calm on the days and hours leading up to the race and the excitement of putting the training to the test. As for the less than a handful running and triathlon races that I do per year, I am not sure why I get so nervous but it is certainly something that I'm working on on a daily basis. I am certainly a hypocrite when it comes to my athletes because I can give the best motivation speeches but when it comes to psyching up myself, sometimes I can't seem to gather the right mental strength to feel confident going into race. Then again, I am fortunate that I am a coach, have supportive friends and family (and Karel) and have the privilege of helping others with training and racing nutrition because it reminds me how much I really do love triathlons and the experiences and memories that come with it.

4:30am came rather quickly but thankfully, Laura and I got a good night of sleep. I prepared some coffee and then used the coffee maker to heat some water for our oatmeal (no fridge or microwave). We had a big cooler of goodies so we had a little milk with our coffee and prepared oatmeal w/ banana and a little PB.
We packed up the car on Sat night so we quickly gathered our stuff and checked out of the hotel at 5:10am. We made our 2 mile drive to the race site and then made our .5 mile walk to the transition.

After body marking, Laura and I made our way through the transition area to set up our gear. I headed to the back of the transition area and Laura was near the middle. 1400 athletes and lots of bikes made for a wonderful time at 5:30am.
As the sun came up, I could see the nerves and excitement on so many faces from newbie athletes about to do their first ever triathlon. After setting up my transition area and giving Karel a quick text to tell him I was nervous but ready to go, I pumped up my tubular tires and then I went to Laura's rack to pump up her tires. After a few pics for the blog and meeting a few blog readers and FB friends, I made a few stops at the bathroom and then headed to the swim start at 6:35.

I was really nervous about the swim because my wave (29 and under) was the very last wave. Nothing like 1302 athletes ahead of you on the course and having to start with 98 youngsters, half of which are super strong HS swimmers.
The anticipation for the start really got to me and I found myself going in and out of excitement and nerves. I kept watching the top-females in each age group swim away from the start line and wondering to myself if I would even stand a chance placing in top 5. Sure, I considered the massive amount of people on the course ahead of me and me not knowing how the other athletes were doing as I was trying to "race my own race" but then again, how could I not dismiss the fact that I was participating in a race where over half of the athletes were doing a first-ever triathlon. I guess you could say I was worried about being in the last wave, 40 min behind the first wave but not the least bit upset that I was racing in this event. I absolutely love sharing the course with newbie athletes and enjoying the experience with experience that I remember all too well.
I took in an Orange Hammer gel about 20 min before the start and at 7:40am, the 29 and unders walked into the water for a water-start.
Off we went. For a moment I thought I was in Kona. I have never been so beat up in my life. Those girls were vicious!! I was swimming all-out trying to keep up with these young girls but before I knew it, we were rounding the first of two turn buoys and catching up with hundreds of other swimmers. Without complaining to myself, I tried to swim around them but there just wasn't a lot of room in this 1/3 of a mile (minus 50 yrds according to officials) course. I did the best I could but I certainly lost a lot of time in that swim.
I sprinted my way out of the water and started my climb up the paved hill to T1. This hill is 10x steeper than the Macon Half hill and I found myself prancing on my tippy-toes to get up the hills. Finally I made my way to the top and ran towards my bike.
On went the aero helmet and glasses, as well as my socks (I wear socks in all of my races because I am not comfortable without them) and shoes. I grabbed TriMarni (who was likely pepping up the other bikes which included mountain bikes, hybrid bikes w/out clips or cages and road bikes) and sprinted out of transition.

Here's where the race got interesting. As I exited transition, I looked ahead to the line of bikes that were ahead of me. Considering that the top age groupers ahead of me (which was everyone except 29 and under) were racing on this 18 mile course with very little bike traffic, I had two goals for this portion of the race "go all out and be safe".
I stayed to the left for the first 5 miles of the race as I passed many riders. I tried to give some cheers and words of wisdom "small chain ring, great job!" but I was on a mission to go as fast as I could.
As a 2x Iron girl Atlanta finisher, I knew this course was not easy. There are 2-3 steep but short climbs and many rollers. There are actually a few tricky descends as well but overall the course is challenging and tough. The course ends with a false flat for about 2-3 miles which leaves you wondering if you have a flat tire or if your brakes are rubbing.
Throughout the course, I did my best to yell "on your left" but a few times I was stuck behind a group of girls walking bikes up hills and weaving around the hills.
Without getting upset, all I could do is say "keep it up" as I cruised on by.
Oh yes, the times of a heavy aluminum hybrid bike...I remember it all too well.
Throughout the entire bike I was playing cat and mouse with a 17 year old who climbed the hills in her aerobars and made it look so easy.
Here I am, a Floridian out of her saddle (in the small ring) pushing up these climbs and we seem to go the same pace, but with completely different effort. We both made sure to give ourselves legal distance between each other but every time she passed me I had to be sure to tell her "good job, you are doing great".
I finished about 3/4 bottle of a heaping scoop of heed (strawberry) mixed w/ water throughout the course and was feeling really really strong on the bike.
With about 1 mile to go, I figured I would need to give it everything I had into transition because by the looks of it, this 17 year old was ready to run me down.
I arrived into transition and got off my bike super fast and sprinted to my rack w/ my bike (shoes still on, I don't unstrap my shoes on the bike).
My transition was super quick because I needed to get as much time as I could to get away from this speedy 17 year old. I put on my running shoes and grabbed my visor and pink race belt as I ran through transition.
I started my watch and made my way onto the run course.
To my surprise, my legs were feeling fresh and I was ready to run. However, the fresh feeling doesn't last long on a course that is filled with rolling hills. I think about 400 yrds are flat and the rest is up, up, up and then down, up, up. How is it that running courses never seem to go down?
The first mile went by fast and my pace was good. 6:45
I talked myself into the out and back course and tried to keep myself motivated to push hard by telling myself "1.5 miles out, 1.5 miles can do this".
After the first mile, I was passed. There goes the speed demon. I guess I lost my mojo for a little as I was climbing up a hill because my pace slowed and I was feeling tired. As I made my turn-around I heard a cheer from Stefanie (princess runner blog) who said "go get em Marni" and that just made my day. I picked up the pace and told myself "1 more mile to go when you get to mile 2!".
2nd mile: 7:07
I picked up the pace and kept the girl ahead of me in sight. I figured if I had any shot of placing top 5 overall I needed to get as close as possible to her. I wasn't able to catch her but I was feeling really good on the run. I have wanted a run like this in the past and finally it was all coming together.
As I made my way up the gradually inclining hill to the finishing chute, I was huffing and puffing to the line. I stopped my watch for my last mile to read 6:55
I found Judy and she told me that I had a chance of getting top 5 but she wasn't sure of the results. She said first place was 1:21 and considering that my time last year was 1:27 I had no idea how I finished.
When results were posted, I was pleasantly surprised with my results.
6th place overall and 1st age group.
The 17 year old got 2nd. If only I had her running legs!
Considering that my wave was last and I had only one girl in front of me to keep me pushing hard, I am really happy with my result.
I have never ran sub 7 min miles off the bike and I was 37 sec. away from having the fastest bike split of the day.
1/3 mile swim (-50 yards) - 18 mile bike - 3 mile run
7:37 swim
52.17 bike (20.7 mph) - Karel is happy with this one!
20.46 run (6:55min/mile)

Could you imagine if we were all in the same wave? Check out the finishing times of the top 8 women (all within 3 1/2 min) and 2nd-6th were within 1 min apart!
Rebecca Villers - 1:21:55 (35-39)
Katie June - 1:23:19 (14-19)
Carmen Brahim -1:23:30 (35-39)
Amanda Harpring - 1:23:36 (30-34)
Kris Kester - 1:23:47 (45-49)
Marni Sumbal - 1:24:20 (25-29)
Helen Libby - 1:25.04 (30-34)
Jennifer Lesser - 1:25:25 (35-39)

A big congrats to Laura for finishing top 200 out of 1400 women! Also congrats to Patti for her first triathlon, Stefanie for having a beautiful pink Trek and to Cindy for having a personal best. Lots of congrats go out to the many first-timer athletes who raced on a really tough course in an effort to cross their first-ever triathlon finish line.
As usual, the race was a success and Judy reminded me how much I really do love triathlons.