Essential Sports Nutrition


Develop an appreciation

When I was in graduate school (Sept 2004-Dec 2005) I had the opportunity to take an elective course in my last semester. I choose Basic first ever nutrition course. Although I spent much of my education on the physiology of exercise, specifically learning more than I could ever imagine in regards to glycolysis and the Krebs (Citric Acid) cycle, I never had the opportunity to learn about basic nutrition.

With only 3 months left in my graduate program, it only took one day in my undergraduate nutrition course to realize that I had a deep passion for nutrition. Having recently finished my first marathon in Jan 2005 (Miami Marathon, at which I qualified for the Boston Marathon), it became apparent that I was able to apply my extensive education of exercise physiology and sports nutrition to the basics of general nutrition and relate it all to my every day activities. As I progressed in volume with my training (soon-to-be Ironman finisher in Nov 2006 at IMFL), I quickly learned that it wasn't the component of sports nutrition that fueled my workouts but rather what I put in my body on a daily basis.

Nutrition can be a rather complex topic, especially with the media telling us what, how much and when to eat...all with conflicting messages often backed by little reputable scientific research.. Every day there are new recommendations, new diets, new "experts" and new risks. Even for someone like myself who likes to keep up with research, it can all be very confusing. Having spent the last 3 years in the dietetic world, however, I am proud to have resources like the American Dietetic Association, which provide evidenced-based research resources to help me better serve the population when I blog and write. Also, as I study for the RD exam, I am able to really understand the deeper meaning to metabolic process as well as having a good understanding for all things related to management, education, research, food science and food management - as it relates to dietetics and my RD exam. Nothing makes me happier than writing and experiencing my view points but as an professional it is important that I provide you (my readers) with practical and factual information. Perhaps the media involves too many "experts" who have little understanding (or appreciation) for research. For when it comes to important and life-changing topics such as exercise and nutrition, it is important that information provided to consumers is based on sound scientific data. As for the method and style of delivering the information, I suppose that is up to the professional and his/her personal philosophy.

When we are born, I would say that most of us are born rather healthy. Believe or not, the growing process is directly related to what we put in our body. Thinking back to your childhood, it is likely that the first few years of your life were filled with lots of wonderful nutrients in order to support the growing process. Perhaps there were a few food jags and the development of a few bad habits but overall, you often left the doctor's office with a lollipop or sticker because you were growing at a healthy rate and your mommy and/or daddy was taking great care of you...making sure that you ate the best foods in order to grow up healthy and strong. Aside from normal wear and tear on the body throughout the aging process, we begin to create added stress in life/work which lends to lack of sleep and poor nutrition choices (perhaps, not exactly in that order). Somehow we start life as an incredibly healthy being and somewhere down the line, we start to make choices that have a negative impact on our life. Months and years go by without us realizing the damaging things that we are doing to our body and suddenly, it is if one day we wake up and say "I'm fat, I need to diet" or "I'm so out of shape". Ouch - what a horrible way to talk to your body, especially since your body is working hard on a daily basis not to fail you. It is helping you cross finish lines, get to work on time and perform every day tasks....but out of the blue, it is just like that, that you hate your body for how it looks/feels TODAY. I believe that you are never too old/young to make heart-healthy choices and enjoy a healthy dose of exercise but when it comes to having an all-or-nothing approach to weight loss and training/exercise, it would be silly to think that we can possibly erase years and decades of unfavorable choices, in just one day.

Because the body relies on a multitude of vitamins and minerals to support body processes, my advice to you is to stop focusing on what you shouldn't be eating and focus more on what you can add to the diet. Without changing anything in your diet, try to add more wholesome foods like fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, oats and quality protein. Sure, you know to do this but there is so much added pressure on what you "CAN'T" eat. Take that pressure off and just add more foods that will make you feel good inside. If you can't stay away from the chips at lunch, how about having less chips and more veggies. If you love pasta or rice for dinner, topped with a few veggies, how about having the exact same meal (portioned controlled) but with a starter of a large, beautifully colored salad.

It's important that we develop a healthy relationship with food for it is in the nutrients in our daily diet that support our training/exercise routine and increase longevity. For when we develop an appreciation for the food in our diet, there comes a fantastic feeling of comfort that we are using every fueling opportunity to reduce risk for disease and provide adequate fuel into our muscles for upcoming activity. Eating should not involve guilt or restriction but rather balance. Creating a diet that works for you and your body, is a work in progress but you have to start somewhere.

Being honest, cabbage is a food that I would often overlook in the grocery store. I'd like to say that "I haven't yet learned to appreciate it". Karel showed me a super easy and yummy way to prepare cabbage and now I crave it once a week.

Simply cut up the cabbage (after removing the outside leaves) give a nice rinse and chop. Add to a large pot on medium heat, which contains 1-2 tbsp of olive oil with chopped green peppers, onions and chopped garlic (cook these ingredients in olive oil until slightly brown, before adding cabbage). Karel likes to add a handful of hashbrowns (notice the dark pieces in my pictures) to the mixture to provide a mix of textures. Cook on low heat (uncovered) for 15-20 minutes, or until cabbage is soft and slightly brown. Stir occasionally.

Did you know that cabbage is rich in anthocyanin polyphenols (giving it a beautiful red color) and is a super healthy cruciferous vegetable which may reduce risk of cancer? Cabbage is also an excellent source of vitamin K and C as well as a very good source of manganese, fiber, B6 (pyridoxine), folate and Omega 3's.

Garlic-y Cabbage


Life's too short

As I get closer and closer to finishing this chapter in my life (dietetic student becoming a RD), I can't help but think how quickly life has flown on by. For it was just the other day (albeit, a little more than 3 1/2 years ago) that I was considering pursing the RD credential in order to write books and improve my credibility as a sports nutritionist and exercise physiologist. And look at me now, I am so incredibly passionate about my future as a "dietitian" (whenever I pass the exam) and I can't wait to put my extensive education (backed by evidence-based research) to good use.

At the end of my 2-day Inman Review course (for an invaluable price of $365), Jean Inman gave us "future RD's" a little motivational talk telling us how hard we have worked to get to where we are today. Rather than thinking about failing the exam, having to wait 45 days to retake the exam, paying another $200 for the exam and then having to tell everyone that you failed, she instructed us to be confident...for this is the LAST step in our educational journey. For after we pass the National Registered Dietitian exam, we are immediately Registered Dietitians and we can start diagnosing and treating medical conditions. She told us to go into the exam feeling confident and to believe in ourselves that we have done EVERYTHING to prepare for the exam.

I suppose I am a creature who loves setting goals and overcoming obstacles in order to reach those goals. For whatever I do in life, I like to dream high and I never doubt myself. I have no trouble saying "I can't" but I never stop trying. Nonetheless, with every journey in my life, I am never without difficulty or stress. However, with that inability to control my external environment, I believe that I have great control over several things in my life. Specifically my diet, my sleep, my outlook on life and my exercise routine.

It is no surprise that by now you know my nutrition and exercise philosophy, specifically in regard to balance. In regards to nutrition, I have a feeling that many people (athletes, fitness enthusiasts and everyone else) stress and worry over weight on a daily basis (if not more). When it comes to injuries in the athlete or fitness enthusiast, I believe that many people carry a Black vs White attitude and when the dominate sport is forced to be removed, the entire passion for exercise is removed. This often makes me athletes really understand the benefits of exercise or is the focus simply on Training for immediate results? For in life, there are no requirements suggesting that you must be an athlete in order to live a quality life and reduce risk for disease. You just have to move your body!

Over the past few weeks, I have quickly realized that life is short.....too short. We often set goals without thinking about the measurable outcome, thus causing days to pass on by with feelings of guilt, preceded by many excuses. Or, we let days days go by without spending just a little time (let it be a meal or an hour) working toward our goal. Or, we do the opposite. We set unrealistic goals which create a life of imbalance. Because we have no guarantees in life, we must not put off until tomorrow what we can start today. And believe me when I say that it is the little things that matter. For it isn't the start of the journey that feels the most rewarding, but it is in the end process. However, throughout your journey, which will help you reach your goals/dreams, it is important that you make the most of your days. If you are injured in your leg, you can still swim. If you have a knee and shoulder injury, exercise your brain (Sudoku anyone?). If you know it is advantageous to your health to get to a heart-healthy weight, there isn't a diet book out there that is going to help you reach your goal. For you may not know all the strengths and weakness's in your diet, you likely know a few of them which you can start on today.

I found this quote today and thought it was perfectly appropriate for all of us who have worked hard for something in life, but still desire more.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”


Today I had a serious craving for pizza. I believe pizza can be the perfect "balanced" meal and I absolutely LOVE the comforting flavors of marinara sauce, cooked veggies and bread. What an ideal combination. Of course, we aren't talking about a deep-pan pizza topped with mountains of cheese. For when you are "creating" your own Marni-creations, it is important that you focus on heart-health as you are building your balanced meal.

I've been at my parents since Wed, studying away. Despite studying intensely over the past month, a little time away at my parents has been beneficial in me absorbing the information covered in the 5 Domains for the RD exam.
A little about the exam from
This computer-based assessment ranges in length, but it will have at least 125 questions. Of these, 100 are used for the raw score. The remaining 25 are not scored; these are pre-trial items which may be used on future exams. If a candidate has 145 items (the most possible), then 120 will be used for the score and 25 are for pre-trial. Candidates will not know which items are scored and which are not. The entire test will take 3 hours, but of that time, thirty minutes is used for the directions. The time for the actual testing portion will be 2½ hours, and there is a clock on the computer so that candidates can keep track of the time. The clock can be hidden if the candidate does not want to see it. A basic calculator will be provided (candidates cannot use their own).

The substance of the test is broken down as follows:

Food and nutrition - 15%
Clinical and community nutrition - 40%
Education and research - 7%
Food and nutrition systems - 18%
Management - 20%

For this test, candidates must provide an answer to every question before they can move on to the next one. Candidates cannot go back to change or re-assess any preceding items. All candidates will get their results at the end of the test. The raw score (the number answered correctly) will be converted to a scaled score in the 1-50 range. The minimum passing scaled score is 25.

My brain is currently overloaded and has been for some time now. But I feel it is necessary to go in overprepared and exhaust all my study options, in the case that I do fail the exam and have to take it over again (you can take the exam an unlimited amount of times, but you have to pay the $200 fee each time and wait 45 days between tests).

As much as I would like to study every waking minute of the day, I feel it is important to exercise my body and not just my mind.
Having the Gearlink cycling team (Karel's racing team and the team that introduced us 5 years ago) in the area has been a blessing for a little de-stressing. With my recent Retul fit, I am riding stronger than ever before, without any pain in my hips or adductors. I am finally engaging my long-lost glutes and not overworking my quads and hip flexors. I have had 2 great rides with the Gearlinkers (since I arrived on Wed), including the Wed night "crit" ride and the Sat morning "bridges". Oh how beautiful it was to ride in downtown Clearwater, doing two loops of the Bellair causeway, the Sand Key Causeway and the Clearwater Bridge (AKA 70.3 world championship and Iron Girl half marathon bridge). I am really missing Karel and riding on our old roads just isn't the same without him by my side. I can remember 5 years ago, riding along with Karel and hardly feeling confident on my bike, let alone being able to ride in a group while rotating.
It has been quite hot here in the Tampa bay area but I have yet skip a run off the bike since starting my "structured" training just 4 weeks ago (yes, I know..I have a LONG way to go before Kona but I'm a little behind in building my base. Thankfully, endurance fitness comes quickly, it's the speed that will be a work in progress). With a scientific foundation emphasizing the "little things" in designing my "Kona" training plan, I can honestly say that for the first time in around 3 years, I actually crave running off the bike...and running doesn't scare me anymore! Always afraid I was going to "injure" myself, I can now go into my runs feeling strong and confident.

Today I found a quote that I feel is perfect for everything that I am going through right now in my life...I Hope you can relate:
“I’m not telling you it is going to be easy — I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it” - Art Williams

So, on to this wonderful, yummy pizza.
My parents told me about MamaMary's products because of the low-sodium pizza crust. I checked out the nutrition label and I am quite surprised to see a product with less than 200 mg sodium per serving. Very nice! It makes me really happy to see my parents choosing healthy options on a daily basis. While we all believe that there is a time for everything, it's never too late to change dietary habits, especially if you find balance in what you are putting in your body.

While I made a beautiful summer, my dad dressed the pizza. He kindly divided the pizza into 3rds so that the my 3rd would remain vegetarian. My side has onions, mushrooms, pineapple and broccoli and my parents had chicken with broccoli and pineapple. My dad enjoyed a little more cheese than the rest of us but we all enjoyed our serving of pizza with the large salad to share. I realize that many people would not be able to share this size pizza with 2 other people, but the idea is balance. There is no reason to avoid pizza and you don't have to go into your meal only having pizza. There are lots of ways to complement your serving of pizza so get creative so that you can enjoy a little of everything instead of a lot of one thing.
I added low fat cottage cheese to my salad to bump up the protein and topped my pizza with a little salsa and sunflower seeds. YUM!